Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Matter is neither created, nor destroyed. It is merely transformed.
– discovered by scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, 1785.
Located near Mahim Station, the 13th Compound area houses over 750 recycling establishments that run a multi-crore industry. The plot is further divided into smaller compounds that recycle cotton, iron, steel, aluminum, wood, cardboard, plastic, everything. The plastic recycling industry here is India’s largest.
Sanola, Jaleel and Banwari compounds are among the oldest. The rain fills the dirt tracks winding by the dilapidated sheds with sludge. Till ten years ago, this sludge reached the knees, forcing godown managers to wear extra large gum boots. Today, drain and road work by the BMC enables the workers to avoid deep ends if they tread carefully. Many still accuse the BMC of having used only Rs 3,00,000 out of Rs 12,00,000 donated for development, denying the area its entitlement of concrete road. Each godown, allocated for either sorting, grinding or heating, emits a different noise. The clinking of metallic scrap, whirring of plastic grinding machines and crackling of melting furnaces conjoin to illustrate the entire re-cycling process from behind closed doors.
In Jignath Plastic Recycling Godown, Sanola Compound, a row of workers sit on their haunches and deftly sort boxes, tins, bottles and plastic bags, without gloves. The items are divided into categories – ‘LD’, ‘HP’ or ‘PP’ – as per the heating temperature they require for recycling. Most workers hail from villages in Maharashtra, Bihar, UP and Andhra Pradesh. In Jaleel Compound, a truckload of industrial machine scrap is downloaded for Agarwal’s godown (one of the richest), after which the workers pause for chai. They share their histories, each akin to the history of any migrant labourer. Jamil left his village in Bihar four years ago because the farmland didn’t yield enough. Kishenlal’s land in UP was usurped and he’s now saving to pay off loan taken in establishing a small town family dispensary store. They’ve recycled their country lives for this hellhole (most scrap holds harmful chemical waste) till they can recycle them again with a new job.
But the most significant recycling has been of the area itself. ’13 th Compound’ emerged because factories nearby used the marsh as dumping ground. The waste filled the wetland and attracted scavengers, sprouting an industry. Today the godown owners, holding photo passes and paying rental to the BMC, prepare to shift shop and make space for residential apartments. Usman Seth, whose godown is one of the oldest, brings out a brochure for a ‘Poorna Vikas Yojna’, with a photograph of beautiful buildings and a lively football ground. “We will all play football!” he snorts, when asked what the workers and godown owners will do for a livelihood after the compound is demolished. New land chosen for the yards lie in Navi Mumbai. But each godown going to a different location there will disperse what is a mammoth symbiosis. And the workers, unable to travel so far, will try recycling themselves again. As a grinding comes on suddenly, erupting plastic pieces, a famous Kabir Doha quoted by Kishenlal resounds in its drone, contradicting Lavoisier’s law: “Chalti Chakki Dekh Kar, Diyaa Kabira Roye. Dui Paathan Ke Beech Mein Sabut Bacha Na Koye.”
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/ptq4