Villagers living around Uttan-Dhavagi hill in Mira Road-Bhayander municipal area, north of Mumbai, have locked horns with civic officials over dumping of garbage on the hilltop. They have not allowed the municipality garbage trucks to pass through since September last.
A recent attempt by the district authorities to suppress the agitation by banning activists from entering Thane rural district (Mira Road-Bhayander falls in the district), triggered a fresh round of protests.
The district magistrate had served tadipaar notices to six activists including a retired high court judge. These activists have been supporting the villagers and were perceived as a threat to law and order. On March 12, villagers marched to the tehsil office to protest harassment by the authorities. “The march was to pressure the authorities so that villagers are not persecuted,” said Shashi Sonavane of the non-profit, Yuva Bharat. He is one of the six persons served tadipaar notices.
Villagers said the continuous dumping of waste on the hills has contaminated groundwater. “We now have to walk a long distance to fetch water and my sons repeatedly fall sick,” said a resident of Uttan village. Another resident, Kalpana Dabre, said the villages are swarming with flies and mosquitoes; the stench from the hill top is carried down by the sea breeze. About 50,000 farmers and fisherfolk living in 10 villages in the Dhavagi foothills are affected.
They have been protesting the dumping of entire municipality’s garbage near their homes and the setting up of a waste processing plant nearby, since 2003. That year, more than 5,000 people signed a memorandum against the setting up of the plant run by Hanjer Biotech Energies Private Limited. It processes 400 tonnes of garbage a day. Most of the garbage is converted into fuel pellets for use in industrial furnaces.
A signature campaign was started again in September last year and a memorandum bearing 17,500 signatures was submitted to the collector. It was followed by a rally on September 13 that was addressed by retired Bombay High Court judge B G Kolse Patil. (He was also served tadipaar notice.) The villagers then decided to blockade the garbage trucks. On September 23, the garbage trucks were given police escort and agitating villagers were beaten up; 20 of them were arrested. The villagers filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission. The plant has been closed since then.
Municipal commissioner Shiv Murti Naik said the problem has been resolved and the waste dumping and processing would resume soon. A bio-spray imported from Germany will take care of the stench from the landfill, he said. But villagers said they will continue to protest till the landfill and the processing plant are shifted. “Municipal officials spoke to church priests. But that doesn’t mean villagers have stopped opposing,” said Sonavane. For the past six mnths, the municipality has been dumping garbage in village farms.
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