M’tra Govt must give alternate Accommodation & Rent to Mahul Project Affected: Bombay HC

The court stated that chemical factories and oil refineries near residential premises pose grave health risks and security issues

mahul residents

The Bombay High Court, on Monday, directed the Maharashtra government to find alternative accommodation for Project Affected Persons (PAP) residing in Mahul within 12 weeks. Until that happens, the court ordered that the residents be paid Rs. 15,000 as monthly transit rent along with a deposit of Rs. 45,000 as a security deposit.

This judgement comes after a long battle by Mahul residents for their right to clean and safe air. The court noted that the level of air pollution in Mahul was ‘alarming’ and the residents were breathing in air filled with carcinogens (cancer causing substances).

The verdict stated by Division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre held that no family be rehabilitated to Mahul or Ambapada PAP colonies due to slum clearance and current residents of these colonies be rehabilitated elsewhere.

Case Background
In the past few decades, Mahul witnessed growth by becoming home to 9 major industrial units like the Tata Power Thermal Plant, Aegis Logistics, Sealord Containers, along with refineries of the HPCL, BPCL and Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers among others. But this, also made Mahul one of the worst polluted parts of the city.

The Eversmile PAP colony is separated by a 15 metre road from the BPCL refinery, is within 300 metre radius of Sealord Containers – a logistics company serving oil and gas industries by providing containers and storage terminals for hazardous chemicals; on its southern end is the Tata Power Thermal Energy Plant and in close proximity to BARC, the largest nuclear reactor in the country bearing weapons-grade plutonium for India’s nuclear weapons program.

The approximate 17,205 residents from 72 buildings of the Eversmile PAP colony challenged the allotments of these tenements when they started suffering from respiratory infections, skin infections and other health issues due to carcinogenic air pollution.

Around 256 people have already lost their lives over the course of this battle. The fight for the rights of the residents of Mahul took steam when in 2015, the NGT passed an order that said, ““…there is a perceptible threat to health of residents of village Mahul and Ambapada due to prevailing air quality in the area”.

The court heard three petitions – one filed by a group of PAP who had been offered accommodation at the Eversmile Colony, second by a group of residents already living at Eversmile and a third by the state government, challenging a 2015 order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that had issued directions regarding the PAP Colony.

Petitioners from the Eversmile Colony spoke of three issues that render the Colony uninhabitable. The first being the close proximity to the refineries that expose them to high levels of carcinogens, the second; a threat to the security of industries and refineries for being in the vicinity of residential premises and the safety of the residents lives itself; and the third and most appalling being the fact that the Colony is devoid of hygienic conditions and basic facilities like schools and medical centres.

The state government opposed this plea arguing that the NGT should not have generalized living conditions that prevailed at that certain period and stressed that the situation had improved.

The HC, however, taking into account the reports from the state pollution boards, the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and IIT Bombay, refused to believe in the state’s claim.

The judges noted, for example, the presence of a high quantity of harmful organic compounds like Benzene. While the permissible limit of Benzene according to air quality standards is a maximum of 5 microgram / cubic metre, the IIT-B report revealed a marked presence of Benzene in the range of 11.4 micrograms per cubic metre to 1039.7 micrograms per cubic metre. The bench took this as proof to be the deterioration of ambient air quality at the site.

The judges also took note of a report by the KEM Hospital, which elaborately stated that the health issues of the PAP were brought on by acute air pollution in the area.

On March 5, 2019 the Supreme Court upheld the NGT’s judgement which was earlier challenged by the State in 2018. Taking into account the reports from three government agencies, the SC said that the NGT’s judgement was beyond the purview of being challenged.

Citing a judgement of the Bombay HC in Oswal Agro Mills Ltd. Vs. Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. & ors, the bench ruled that no family in rehabilitation as a result of slum clearance would be shifted to the PAP colonies in Mahul and Ambapada and those rehabilitated would be offered accommodation elsewhere, up until then for which they are to be paid transit rent and a security deposit.

Also citing the Article 11 (1) of the International Covenant on economy, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which states – “Right to an adequate standard of living including basic income, food, housing, water, sanitation and clothing and the continuous improvement of living conditions”, the court said, “The state parties will take appropriate steps to ensure realization of this, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free content.”

Speaking of the verdict, Bilal Khan, an activist from the NGO Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan which has tirelessly fighting for the rights of these Mahul residents said, ““We are all extremely happy and prepared that the BMC will go to the SC but this time, the government will have to act. We are going start filing applications seeking to move out from tomorrow itself.”

The court has granted the State a period of 12 weeks to comply with the given directions.

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