Kumhar gram: Between smoke and survival, work as usual at potters’ village

Shivam Patel
Kumhar Gram is home to families of several potters

Wood-fired kilns in Uttam Nagar's potters' village continue to be operational, despite a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in December directing that they be shut down.

On Tuesday, thick smoke could be seen coming out of a number of furnaces inside homes of Kumhar Gram. The village, in West Delhi's Uttam Nagar, houses several potter families, many whom have been living there for decades.
Residents of nearby Bindapur had filed a case before the NGT in February 2017, claiming potters were running industrial units in the area. After the NGT ruling, the South Corporation had directed potters to stop "trade and industrial activities".

Harkishan Prajapati, a national award winning craftsman who is representing potters in the area, said they have approached the Supreme Court.

"The (Bindapur) residents have wrongly claimed that we are operating factory units. This is not an industry and our people are not capable of changing their trade suddenly. We need the government's help. We also told the NGT that if there's a problem with the smoke, the government could provide us gas or electric furnaces at a subsidised rate… If that is not workable, we are ready to shift to a different location."

On Tuesday afternoon, Suresh Kumar (52), a potter from the village, was putting wood shavings into a burning furnace filled with different earthenware. He said his father used to do the same work and his son, who did not manage to get a job, would follow in his footsteps.

"If we don't do this, what else can we do? I worked as a driver in Delhi in '90s but did not earn enough to feed the whole family. We have been doing pottery for a long time now and I am comfortable with it."

Residents in the village and nearby Uttam Nagar have complained that smoke coming out of the colony is affecting air quality. Sanjay Rathore (24), who lives in the village, said he was worried about his family's health but was helpless: "My voice is just one against many in this area who are in this business. I have another property and I am thinking of moving there, but my relatives are here."

Meanwhile, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) received a complaint on Twitter regarding air pollution in the area from Dipendu Das, a resident of Suraksha Vihar near potters' village. A CPCB official claimed, "Our officials have gone there, but they (potters) form a group and threaten to attack us."

The CPCB tagged the SDMC's Twitter handle in connection with Das's complaint and asked it to take action.
An SDMC spokesperson said now that the matter has been brought before the body, they will look into it.