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Locals say scrap dealers held for Deonar fires are innocent

Published On : 18 Apr 2016

Mumbai (The Hindu): A day after the police arrested nine scrap dealers in connection with the fires that broke out at the Deonar dumping ground since January, locals said the arrested men were innocent. They said ragpickers can’t be blamed for the frequent incidents of fire at the ground as they depended on the garbage heaps for their livelihood.

The nine dealers have been charged under various sections, including negligence and causing damage to public property, of the Indian Penal Code. The accused have been remanded in 14-day judicial custody and are currently in the Arthur Road Jail.

“Why will we set fire to our only means of livelihood? We look for plastic, glass, and paper in the garbage dump. How will it help if we set that on fire,” said Shalini Kamble, who lives in the dumping ground and works with Apnalaya, an NGO that has around 370 ragpickers associated with it.

Ms Kamble said the allegation on the scrap dealers for starting the fire was misplaced and wrong. She pointed out that there are four NGOs operating in the area and the number of ragpickers associated with them, adds up to around 1,500. “These NGOs, including mine, run checks on each person and issue identity cards after a background check. We ensure there is no one with a criminal background, or a drug addict, gets an identity card. This card is renewed every year.” Locals alleged that despite security measures in place following the fires, the ground has remained open to all. “I live there and I see what is happening,” said Ms Kamble.

Another resident, Ehsan Shaikh, said the boys of Rafiz Nagar and Shanti Nagar, who work as ragpickers, are now worried if they too will be picked up. “I have known these people (who were arrested on Saturday) for 20-25 years. Besides, the garbage dump has caught fire on several occasions because of the gas emanating from the dump,” he said.

The action against the ragpickers was imminent since late last month when the civic body cancelled entry passes of 3,000 ragpickers, holding them responsible for the fire in March-end.

The support for the arrested scrap dealers was building up in Rafiq Nagar on Sunday, but people admitted to being scared of speaking up. “They primarily look for plastic and sell it for Rs 10 to Rs 12 per kg. There is no reason why they would set it afire,” said Haroon Abdul, a grocery store owner in the area.

Locals said they will be holding meetings to find ways of making their point to the police and the civic administration. They said they had earlier sent letters to the local MLA and the civic chief on how they depended on the dumping ground for a living and that it cannot be closed, as was being demanded following the fire incidents.

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