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When Raju Nalawade had come to stay in Dombivli MIDC area in 1989, he had no idea he would turn David crossing swords with Goliath, the powerful industrialists' lobby. What he started as a green initiative on a local scale has now become a full blown movement against pollution by irresponsible companies, earning him friends, as well as threats.
"From 1989 to 1995, I quietly watched as incidents caused by negligence by companies kept piling up. Gas would leak from myriad factories in MIDC area, untreated waste would be released into sewers, fires would break out spreading harmful gases. While companies got insurance money and moved on, residents were the ones to suffer," Nalawade says.
In 1995, Nalawade became a member of Milaap Nagar Resident's Association in Dombivli and decided to use it to promote environment friendly initiatives like planting trees and cautioning people against littering or burning garbage. In 1997, Nalawade lost his job when the engineering firm he worked with in Thane shut down along with several others after they went bankrupt. Nalawade had a talk with his wife, a schoolteacher, and finding her support decided to take up pro-environment activities full time.
"I soon realised that companies dealing with hazardous chemicals were the biggest threat. This year alone, a pavement dweller and a stray dog died after inhaling fumes from untreated waste released into the sewers. A month ago, some fumes from a nullah next to the municipal school in Gandhi Nagar affected students and teachers alike. Soon after that, a fire broke out in a chemical company and residents were plagued for an entire day by harmful emissions," says Nalawade.
He is armed with data, dates tables and news reports which he promptly presents to the MPCB and other authorities whenever there is an inquiry. He still holds an annual plantation programmes at Milaap Nagar and nearby areas. He regularly writes to authorities about environment and industrial safety violations, and his letters have at times sparked official inquiries, sometimes resulting in action.