Ramkaran Yadav, 42, fears a landslide. The Ghazipur landfill stands like a trash mountain barely 100 metres away from his dairy.
“What if it rolls down? After all, it is garbage!” Yadav says.
The dairies surrounding the 70-acre landfill are run by migrants from states like UP, Bihar and Haryana. But most try to keep their families back home. Yadav says he doesn’t want his children to grow up in the neighbourhood. “I am here to earn and send money home,” he adds.
In the 3,600 sqft rented shelter, he has nearly a dozen cattle. Three men from his village in Kaushambi district of UP work in his dairy, which is surrounded by a toxic landscape.
Waste and cow dung from cowsheds flow out to open space and sometimes, stagnant drains, which run on either side of the mud-filled roads. The civic amenities enjoyed by the rest of the city don’t reach these slums.
Most houses don’t have piped water supply or legitimate electricity connection. The water from the pump tastes metallic, locals say.
Located on the Delhi-UP border, the neighbourhood offers cheaper and regulation-free operation for businesses such as dairies and fabric dyers, which dump chemical waste into overflowing drains.
“We never think of settling here,” says Gajraaj, 34, who is from Yadav’s neighbouring village. He has been living in the area for eight long years.
He says when his wife came to live with him, she caught asthma. “I hesitate from bringing her and my children here. This is no place to live,” he adds.
The landfills produce threatening amount of methane gas and a black toxic liquid called leachate. Studies have shown that living near a landfill increases the risk of cancer, birth defects, asthma and gastrointestinal illness.
But the landfill is a steady source of income for hundreds of families who work as wastepickers.
Children could be seen waiting for belching trucks that keep piling up garbage on the landfill. They scour fresh dumps in search of bottles and scrap metals, not noticing crows and vultures circling overhead.
And as the sun goes up, they return to the ground for food and play. “We climb 100 feet daily. It stinks real bad,” says 15-year-old Sonu, who never went to school like most of the children in the neighbourhood. He says he uses a magnet attached to a wooden stick to collect pieces of loose metals.
Sonu’s sister and his parents also work as wastepickers.
“It is tough. But who would clean the dumpyard?” says Shahzad, 27, another ragpicker, on how difficult it is to live near the landfill.
But barely two kilometres away in Vaishali, Kritarth Sharma says that the landfill stands like an eyesore. “All you see from the window is crows and vultures dotting the sky. And whenever the wind blows in the wrong direction, the pungent smell burns the nostrils,” he says.