x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mumbai perfumes smelly rubbish dumps

Authorities in Mumbai begin spraying the city's two biggest rubbish dumps with perfume to lessen the increasingly foul smell.

Mumbai authorities have purchased 42,000 litres of perfume to spray on the city's enormous waste dumps.
Mumbai authorities have purchased 42,000 litres of perfume to spray on the city's enormous waste dumps.

NEW DELHI // Authorities in Mumbai have begun spraying the city's two biggest rubbish dumps with perfume to lessen the increasingly foul smell. The city has bought 42,000 litres of Sanil Supreme, a floral-smelling herbal spray, after people living near the Deonar and Mulund landfill sites complained of the stench.

"It's the only thing we could think of to give them relief," said Ahmad Karim, head of the city's solid waste management department. "The smell at the sites is unbearable." The Deonar landfill site, one of India's largest, was first used by the British in 1927. Today, the festering pile covers more than 120 hectares and is eight storeys high. "Everything gets dumped there; old food, rotten fish, rotten vegetables, plastic bags, glass and metal items," said Mr Karim.

Around 500,000 people live near the two dumps, which were once beyond the city limits but have been caught up in the sprawl of one of the world's fastest growing urban areas. The council has spent 4.8 million rupees (Dh395,000) on enough scent to last for 10 months, prompting criticism from the press in a city where many live on less than US$1 (Dh3.67) a day and more than half the population live in slums.

"Spraying deodorant doesn't make sense. It's just a waste of money," said Neelam Rane, head of the Deonar local residents' group that is trying to get the dumps closed down. Mumbai's population of 18 million has more than doubled in the past 30 years, making it the most densely populated urban area in the world and placing huge strain on the island-city's infrastructure. Every weekday, an average of 16 people are killed falling off the city's overcrowded commuter trains and the city regularly suffers from power outages.

In March, Mumbai was ranked seventh in a list of the world's 25 dirtiest cities published by Forbes magazine, a worse rating than even war-ravaged Baghdad. India's capital, New Delhi, was listed 24th. Mumbai's council now has plans to close part of the dumps and use the methane the rest generates to help solve the city's power crisis. The remainder will be sprayed daily with 240 litres of scent mixed with water.

Local residents, however, are petitioning the High Court for complete closure, saying the dumps regularly catch fire and are a source of disease. "We've had lots of infant death and there is a high incidence of respiratory infections," said Dr Rane. India has found itself ill-equipped to deal with the mountains of plastic bags, electronic waste and even food that have found their way into the nation's rubbish bins as a result of two decades of economic growth.

In Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, the population produces close to 8,500 metric tonnes of rubbish a day, most of which makes its way to the two sites. "Being a largely rural economy most of our waste used to be bio-degradable," said Prashant Pastore, an expert on waste management at Toxics Link, an environmental advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. "The problem is our consumption habits have changed but our dumping habits have not."

Most Indian cities have no formal system of collection for household waste, and rely instead on low-caste scavengers or ragpickers who sift though the rubbish in search of items and materials of value. Outside of India's big cities, rubbish is simply dumped on vacant plots or in nearby fields or forests. In one of the country's fastest growing and most affluent cities, Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, there is not a single landfill site and waste is strewn everywhere, including on the super-fast motorway way that connects the hi-tech town to Delhi.

"Waste disposal is a post-facto thing here, it's just not a priority for local governments," Mr Pastore said. hgardner@thenational.ae