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Despite Tatva, municipality’s promises, Mumbai’s Deonar hills diseased the city for decades

In 'Mountain Tales', Saumya Roy narrates the stories of rag-pickers and Mumbai's Deonar dwellers in shocking detail.

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In September 2013 Tatva wrote to the municipality saying that a dispute had arisen over the municipality’s inability to lease the township to it and non-payment for its services. It asked the municipality to form a dispute resolution committee to resolve the stand-off. Copies of the letter began arriving at a range of municipal offices.

In October the municipality wrote back, saying it would form a committee to resolve their differences. More letters from Tatva arrived at the municipal offices, attempting to set up the committee so it could begin work. No responses came. In December Tatva filed a court case to get the municipality to pay its dues for their work in clearing the site, as well as the failure to provide the lease to make the plant, which remained unbuilt.

As the municipality began looking for funds, and a new company to build the plant, warm winds blew over the mountains, aggravating the season of fires. The monsoon, which usually calmed the fires for a few months, would not arrive until June.

That year water tankers posted at the township struggled to douse the fires for more than a week. Municipal officials looked on helplessly. Official correspondence also showed that in February the municipal commissioner had said there were several complications and risks involved in a waste-to-energy plant, especially one that the municipality would own jointly with a private company. It took back the fresh plans for a plant.

Also read: Converting waste to energy is great, but also disastrous if done as here in Delhi

The garbage caravans continued to arrive and Tatva shovelled their contents onto the hills, as it had for more than five years. In court, it pushed for the appointment of an arbitrator to award its unpaid bills and damages for being unable to make the plant. Municipal lawyers countered by saying that Tatva had worked for years, while awaiting permission; it was content, they suggested, with piling trash on the hilltops rather than making the plant. It had paid Tatva for the work it did. Mediation was not written into their contract. At the township, broken fragments of the wall stood stranded – a reminder of the future that had so nearly arrived, before it sank into the trash that the pickers had waded through their whole lives. On 19 March 2015 Justice Shahrukh Kathawalla granted Tatva’s plea for mediation with the municipality.

In September 2015, weeks before arbitration proceedings between Tatva and the municipality were to begin, the municipality served a pre-termination notice to Tatva, which it would later enforce on 22 January, 2016. Tatva was to leave the Deonar township on 31 January 2016, only six years into its twenty-five-year tenancy.

Until the municipality could begin fixing things afresh, the township would continue to take in more of the city’s reeking secrets, employing only the illicit army of pickers. A tired disappointment replaced the dreams of gold in their lanes in the winter of 2015. The failed compost plant had become one of the mountains’ ghosts, even before it materialised. Tatva’s staff were leaving to work elsewhere. The latest court deadline to stop dumping garbage at the Deonar township – to fix it or settle a modern trash township – had passed months ago.

This excerpt from ‘Mountain Tales’ by Saumya Roy has been published with permission from Profile Books.

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