"Asthma afflicts almost every house in Gorai"

Pramod N Bagud (PNB), a pediatrician, and Manoj K Ved (mkv), a general physician, practise in Gorai, an area infamous for a 15-hectare dumpsite in Mumbai. They related terrible stories of the area's wheezing kids to Nidhi Jamwal

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Sunday 15 January 2006

How long have you practised at Gorai and what has been your experience?
mkv: I have been practising at Gorai for the past 10 years. Some years ago, I used to come here from Parel and would commute by bus. A terrible stench, just before the bus approached Gorai, would signal that my destination was close by. Most of my patients then -- and even now -- were children with respiratory problems. Many of them have now turned asthmatic.

pnb: In the last two years, the number of asthmatic children at my hospital has increased 50 times. Some are infants in the 4 months to one year age group. I am sure these kids would have some relief if dumping stops at Gorai.

Why implicate the dumping ground?

mkv: How can you have a dumping ground with a residential colony abutting it? All kinds of waste are dumped at Gorai. The dump catches fire, almost everyday, and then the western breeze carries noxious gases towards residential colonies. These pollutants cause severe allergic reactions in the human respiratory system.

What kind of respiratory diseases have you come across?
mkv: Allergic rhinitis is the most common problem. At a later stage this morphs into infections of the upper respiratory track, and finally the chest and the lungs are affected. When I set up my clinic here, I felt no need for a nebuliser -- used by asthmatics during an emergency. After all, the Gorai area was quite green and devoid of vehicular pollution. But I have been forced to buy one, because an increasing number of my patients require nebuliser therapy.

But is the dumping ground behind the rise in asthma cases?
mkv: Yes, I am confident. Today both my sons are asthmatic. I shifted to Gorai in 1999 when my elder son, Kshitij, was about 18 months old. He was perfectly fine then, but within two months of our shifting here, he had an asthma attack.

pnb: Actually Ved's kids are wheezing kids: they are sure to get an asthma attack if they come into contact with any allergen/pollutant. Many children in Gorai have this problem. They wake up at night with extreme breathlessness and have to be rushed to a hospital. Most such children don't have an upper respiratory tract infection, but develop lower respiratory tract diseases, straightaway. I have been forced to put many such patients on long-term steroid doses.

Any specific cases that you would like to mention?
pnb: Asthma patients usually have a family history of the disease. But most of my patients have no such history. They were perfectly healthy when they lived outside Gorai, but contracted asthma within months of shifting here. Take the case of Ashish, a 7-year-old patient of mine. A few years ago, when he moved to Gorai with his parents, Ashish was a perfectly healthy child. But within three months in Gorai, he developed a cough.

Parents of children such as Ashish ask me if they should leave Gorai for elsewhere. Some who are lucky have already left the area, but most cannot afford another house in Mumbai.

mkv: A young female patient of mine tells me that she feels perfectly fine when she visits her village. But no sooner does she get back to Gorai she starts wheezing. Almost every house in Gorai has an asthmatic. What more proof does one want?

But why did people allow a dumping ground to come up next to their houses?
mkv: People were not informed about it, when the Maharashtra Housing Development Authority allotted plots to them in the 1980s. The housing authority's plans made no mention of any dumping ground. But then in the early 1990s, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (bmc) started dumping about 750 truckloads of waste here everyday -- in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991. Finally, Gorai's resident's filed a public interest petition in the Bombay High Court, which recently directed the bmc to come clean. But the municipality continues to dump waste in Gorai. It has pleaded for a year's time to shift away from Gorai. Meanwhile, we have bought the violation of its orders to the court 's notice. The case is slated to come up for rehearing soon.

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