Paras Singh| TNN |
- Locals trace the genesis of the abnormal rate of cancer to toxic chemicals used by the denim dyeing units
- It’s impossible to escape the colour blue in Shiv Vihar
- Bamboo scaffoldings hold up hundreds of blue jeans to dry as a pungent smell hangs in the air and gutters run inky blue
NEW DELHI: The link between Naushad, 22, a dyer at a jeans unit in Shiv Vihar in northeast Delhi, and Alok Rathore, a 16-year-old Class VIII student living in the same neighbourhood, is as yet tenuous. But there are clear hints of a ruinous connect between the young employee of a unit that nonchalantly uses possible carcinogenic colours to dye jeans for the capital’s low-end markets and the student who had to have his right hand severed to prevent a cancer from spreading.Though no study has been conducted in this Mustafabad locality, locals trace the genesis of the abnormal rate of cancer to toxic chemicals used by the denim dyeing units.It’s impossible to escape the colour blue in Shiv Vihar. Bamboo scaffoldings hold up hundreds of blue jeans to dry as a pungent smell hangs in the air and gutters run inky blue. “Chances are most of the jeans available at Sunday bazars in Delhi have gone via Mustafabad,” said Naushad with pride. But the means of livelihood for scores of families has a sinister edge for others, like Rathore.Residents depend on borewells and it is quite likely that the acids, dyes and untreated effluents discharged into the drain, eventually seep into the groundwater.We know the water is not of good quality, but we can’t afford to buy bottled water,” shrugged resident Raghuwati. Jagadish Pradhan, the area MLA, alleged that the chemicals have led to health problems, which include a significant incidence of cancer. The legislator claimed to have raised the issue in Delhi assembly, but to little avail.Oncologist P K Julka, former professor at the department of radiotherapy and oncology in AIIMS, revealed that aniline dyes are indeed known to cause cancers. “In Mustafabad, there is no proof yet that seepage into groundwater is behind these problems,” he said, adding, “The authorities must immediately order a detailed survey and carry out a scientific study of cancer incidence and causes.”In the two lanes of Shiv Vihar Phase 10 alone, TOI detected two deaths and eight suspected tumour cases. Teenager Rathore is one of them. He no longer goes to school. “It started with a peasized lump on his hand 18 months ago. It eventually swelled to the size of a ball,” said his mother Kamla Devi, a vegetable seller. She spent a hard-earned Rs 2 lakh on his treatment, but his right hand had to be amputated just above the wrist to prevent the cancerous growth from spreading.The boy is lucky in that two others living in the same lane have died in the past couple of months. One had been diagnosed with blood cancer, the other had cancer of the throat. Anxiety marked Haridevi’s face as she held up X-ray plates showing lumps in her breasts. “They are not yet calling it cancer,” the 50-year-old said, but perhaps it was meant to boost her own spirits.Akash Sharma, whose grandfather also succumbed to cancer, was critical of the government’s failure to provide water to the localities in Mustafabad, including Shiv Vihar. “The water tankers do come, but they cannot provide enough water for such a large population,” he said.
Unlike many residents who resignedly acknowledged “knowing we were drinking slow poison”, Sharma’s family uses a reverse osmosis water purifier for the water drawn from the borewell. “The problem is the water is so bad that the filters have to be changed every few weeks,” revealed Sharma.
Meanwhile, unmindful of the possible health hazard they cause, the dyeing units operate in tin sheds and temporary housings in Shiv Vihar. In the one that TOI visited, there were three gigantic steel drums attached to motors — a handy jugaad that ensures dyeing, washing and softening of the denim at the same place.
“We use ‘jamuni’ the most,” said Rashid Alam, whose limbs had turned blue through prolonged use of the colour, as he picked up a fistful of powder from a plastic bag with no markings or company branding. “It costs Rs 250 a kilo.”
A typical colouring cycle uses 200g of the dye, mild acids and agents such as sodium hydrosulfite. Jeans tailored in self-help units in Dharampura, Kailash Nagar, Seelampur, Ajeet Nagar and Raghubar Pura are dipped in the metal troughs and once the colour becomes “pakka”, as Alam put it, the jeans are washed with warm water, neutralised by acids and then softened.