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Rishi Majumder discovers a gold mine of recyling units near Mahim station

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." The grinding brings tears, the duality of
these wheels spares nothing.

Publication:Mumbai Mirror ; Date:Aug 17, 2007; Section:Bombay Buck; Page