Clearing Mumbai’s Coal Mountains


In July 2013 I came across an article that said respiratory diseases were among the top five killers in Mumbai.

Deaths due to respiratory tract infections such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD) and bronchial asthma were rising steadily. Lung specialists said that one in 10 people in the city had asthma. There were many more deaths from TB and lung cancer.

Where, I wondered, was the source of the pollution that was causing this problem ? What I found was quite shocking.

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

We have mountains of coal in the heart of South Mumbai, just a few kilometres from Chatrapati Shivaji Station. RTI applications revealed that over 1.8 mln tonnes were stacked here in 2013. And the sea breeze carries this coal dust into the lungs of every Mumbaikar. This coal, is not even meant for the city of Mumbai. It is being stacked here for storage and transport to coal plants of MahGenCo in Bhusaval, which would be much better served by ports such as Surat.

This coal is being unloaded through open excavators, stored in the open and transported in uncovered trucks in violation of all pollution control norms, exposing our city and everyone who lives in Mumbai to growing health hazards.

20140416_094344_resizedGoogle earth photos show how an area that was completely green in 2000 had turned completely black by 2013. Mangroves in the area have been completely destroyed and the entire area of Haji Bunder is carpeted in a layer of black sludge.

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2000

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2013

In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, I therefore committed that I would work towards the removal of these Coal mountains, irrespective of whether I won or lost the election.

And so over the past few months, working with a team of committed citizens, I filed a petition in this matter. As the Pollution Control clearance to Mumbai Port Trust for the handling of coal was expiring on 30th September 2014, this was a matter of urgency.

I am very glad to share that the Hon High Court of Mumbai has heard our Petition. Their judgement, extracts of which are attached below, gives us confidence that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board will not extend its permission to the Mumbai Port Trust for coal handling.

” PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (L) NO.111 OF 2014

Smt. Meera Sanyal and anr. vs. Union of India through Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi and ors.

Mr. Kusumakar Kaushik for Petitioners.

CORAM: MOHIT S. SHAH, C.J. & M.S.SONAK, J.

DATE : 25 SEPTEMBER 2014

Two public spirited citizens in Mumbai have moved this Court for challenging the consent to operate order dated 14 October 2013 granted by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to Mumbai Port Trust (MPT), particularly, in the matter of coal handling at Haji Bunder or at any other place in Mumbai Port Lands. The said consent to operate order is going to expire on 30 September 2014 and the petitioners have therefore prayed for an injunction to restrain the MPCB from renewing/extending the consent to operate beyond 30 September 2014.

2] Having regard to the nature of grievances voiced in the public interest litigation, it would be just and proper to direct that MPCB shall treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation.

3] Accordingly, the public interest litigation is disposed of with a direction to MPCB­respondent No.3 to treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation and to take the same into consideration before taking any decision on the proposal of MPT ­ respondent No.4 for renewal/extension of the consent to operate order. It goes without saying that the MPT will also be allowed to submit their response to the representation and such response shall be given within two weeks from today and thereafter MPCB shall consider the proposal of MPT for renewal/ extension of the consent to operate.

4] It is clarified that we have not gone into the merits of the controversies sought to be raised in this public interest litigation and it will be open to the petitioners to move this Court again, if and when required.

CHIEF JUSTICE

(M.S.SONAK, J.) ”

This is however only the first step in our battle to reclaim the PortLands for the city of Mumbai.

Please join me in this fight for a more livable Mumbai and share this post with your friends. Please also share any ideas and suggestions you may have on Mumbai’s PortLands  at apliportlands@gmail.com

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