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‘Why is Maharashtra's environment department insisting port trust resume coal handling?’


Times of India, New Delhi, 17th October, 2015

Anahita Mukherji

MUMBAI: Maharashtra's environment department seems to have forgotten the reason for its existence. While TOI has, over the last six months, pointed to the devastating environmental impact of mountains of coal lying on port land along the eastern sea front, and even the port trust has issued a notice stating it would stop handling coal, the state environment department has exerted pressure to restart coal handling on grounds of revenue loss. Strangely, the environment department is supposed to worry about the environment, not revenue loss caused when a polluting activity is moved out of Mumbai.


While Union shipping minister Nitin Gadkari had earlier spoken of the need to handle only "clean cargo" on port land, he capitulated on Friday and said the port trust would temporarily handle coal, following a request by the state environment minister. The port trust has made it abundantly clear that it no longer wants to handle coal, but ironically it is the environment department which is keen on allowing it to restart coal operations.


Those who have suffered greatly on account of the coal mountains on port land, feel personally let down by the environment minister. "There are many ways for a state to earn revenue. This can't be at the cost of human life. The environment minister should not be worrying about revenue. Else there are several illegal activities that can be legalised on grounds that closing them down will result in a revenue loss," said Hemlata Kharvi, a resident of a building overlooking the coal mountain, whose home is filled with coal dust despite two windows being permanently shut. Her brother-in-law suffered from tuberculosis, and her family has written several anguished letters to the port trust seeking closure of its coal handling operations.


An old woman from a slum near the coal dump lost both her daughter and son-in-law to TB and now looks after her grandchildren all on her own. People who live and work near the coal say the phlegm they cough up is black with coal dust. Students at a maritime college near the coal dump too have coal dust in their lungs.


Koli fisherfolk who live in the Koli Samaj Housing Society in Sewi have been greatly affected by the coal. A study of the residents of the society by KEM hospital found many suffering from both respiratory and eye problems. "I have cut out a newspaper article where the environment minister says people who do not follow pollution norms would be fined and punished. And yet he does not want the coal to be moved out of the city," rues Prabhakar Koli, a fisherman who lives in the society.