Illegal diggers blast rocks on hill near Bhiwandi, sending plumes of dust towards Chirapada; tired of nuisance and health woes, locals plan exodus
Residents of a tiny village on the outskirts of Mumbai have put it up for sale after being kept awake every night by the noises of sand mafia chipping away at a nearby hill.Controlled explosions are triggered on the hill and illegal diggers spend entire nights breaking rocks and carting away sand -activities that send huge amounts of dust towards Chirapada village, about 6 km from Bhiwandi.

Every second person in the hamlet of 200 has developed respiratory infections and many are now complaining of rashes, but government and local-body officials have done little to stop the sand mafia despite repeated complaints.

Locals say selling their land and moving out is the only option left. A hand-written sign inviting buyers for the entire village has been stuck on a tree on a road leading to Chirapada.

“There’s so much dust here that we have forgotten what fresh air is. Many people are suffering from lung problems and have rashes. We cannot afford to make frequent hospital trips,“ said resident Prashant Dandekar.

“We have been living in terrible conditions for the past few years, but it’s now time to leave as officials just won’t listen to us. We are a poor community so no one cares if we live or die.“

The sand mafia, which thrives because of the demand from certain builders, has already reduced one hill behind the village to a mound.The illegal diggers left many ditches uncovered, creating a hazard for children who play nearby.

“We can hardly sleep at night because there is constant noise of stone-crushing machines and there are often small explosions on the hill, which cause the ground to shake. We fear that our houses will collapse one day,“ said another resident Rahul Dhamne.

“Just spend a night in Chirapada and you will realise how bad it is.“

Before the residents decided to put up the village for sale, they staged an unusual protest: every day, a person would visit the office of the Thane Municipal Corporation with a complaint letter. “We have approached municipal officials so many times, but nothing has been done,“ Dhamne said.

Some residents claimed that blast waves had caused cracks in their homes. Phoolavanti, 67, said that she and her son briefly moved out of their house after “tremors” caused by the blasts led to two wall collapses. “We had to rebuild the wall twice, but new cracks have appeared. We can’t sleep now because we fear that the walls will crumble and the roof will collapse,” she said.

The residents shifted a school over fears that rocks dislodged by the sand mafia might roll into the village.

“What should we do? Should we wait for a tragedy? We have no choice but to move out of the village,” said a member of the local gram panchayat. “We are ready to sell our land and have put up a board.” Thane collector Ashwini Joshi said that officials had carried out an inspection in the area.

“We have received complaints and are looking into the matter,” Joshi said.