The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government to shift relocated slum residents out of the heavily polluted Mahul area of Mumbai, The Hindu reported.

The court told the state that it cannot force people to live there, and said new families should not be moved there. It directed the government to either shift the residents out of the area in 12 weeks or pay them rent so they can look for accommodation elsewhere.

A division Bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre upheld another division bench’s ruling, passed in April, directing the state government to deposit Rs 15,000 as rent and Rs 45,000 as security deposit in the bank accounts of the residents. The government had challenged the order in Nandrajog’s court.

Mahul is a tiny fishing village near Trombay in Mumbai. In the mid-2000s, housing colonies were built there for slumdwellers under the Project Affected People scheme. More than 10,000 families were reportedly moved to these colonies in the next few decades after they were displaced by various projects, according to The Indian Express. This included about 1,000 families living in Ghatkopar area near the Tansa pipeline. They were relocated after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation demolished their homes in accordance with a 2009 Bombay High Court order.

Around 5,000 families now live in these housing colonies in Mahul. The area is surrounded by oil refineries, chemical factories, petroleum companies and fertiliser plants, and is heavily polluted. Hundreds of residents have alleged that they either fell sick or lost their family members after moving to Mahul.

“It is evident that residential premises in the vicinity of such refineries can pose multi-faceted risks, which are not only restricted to the health of residents nearby, but also security risk by way of a terrorist attack using these refineries as targets,” the court said on Monday, adding that a terrorist attack would lead to “colossal destruction” of Mumbai, PTI reported.

“We have perused reports prepared by three government agencies – the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, the Central Pollution Control Board and NEERI – which show that the air pollution in Mahul continues to be disturbingly high and to this day, poses threat to human life,” the court added.

Some of the families approached the High Court in 2018 demanding relocation. Surveys conducted by the National Green Tribunal and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, said that the area was not fit for human habitation as the air and drinking water had high concentrations of pollutants.

Also watch: Relocated slum residents in Mumbai are choking on a cocktail of lethal toxins