The Maharashtra government and the BMC cannot treat project-affected people as "guinea pigs" and make them stay in heavily polluted suburban Mahul on the assurance that air quality in the area may improve in the coming years, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre made the strong observation while hearing the applications of a group of people displaced following the demolition of their "illegal" houses.
The bench noted that the pollution situation has not improved in Mahul since 2015.
Some 15,000 families were displaced after their "unauthorised" houses near the Tansa pipeline were ordered to be demolished by the high court.
The HC had, while directing for the demolition, said encroachments on the Tansa water pipeline posed a risk to the lives of lakhs of residents if any untoward incident were to occur.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had shifted the displaced people to a housing colony in Mahul, a polluted area that is home to refineries and chemical units.
However, several families refused to move to Mahul, claiming that the air quality there was very poor and posed health risks.
The applications being heard by the bench were filed by such families.
The court had then asked the BMC to provide alternate accommodation to those persons or pay them rent so that they can themselves find a place to stay.
The bench on Thursday, after perusing a chart of studies carried out by various expert bodies on the air quality in Mahul, noted that the situation has not improved in the recent past.
"The situation does not appear to be very rosy. From 2015 till now, expert bodies have been monitoring but the air quality has not improved.
"In such a situation, can we make these persons stay there? You cannot treat them as guinea pigs," Chief Justice Nandrajog said.
The bench said it would on a later date pass orders on the matter.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had, in December 2015, noted that the air pollution in Mahul was severe. It had then directed for a study to be carried out periodically and suggested putting in place a comprehensive plan to improve the air quality in the area.
Around 200 of the 15,000 affected families have shifted to Mahul so far.