Driving on NH-24 towards Indirapuram from Delhi, it’s hard to miss this mountain of garbage – on your right where the road sign reads ‘Ghazipur murga mandi’.
An attempt to go near the 40-metre high pile-up, spreading across 70 acres is a struggle in itself.
First the stench from the chicken and fish markets on the way hits you. Once past the meat markets, the air is still foul. Over 2,000 tonnes of garbage is dumped daily at nearby landfill site.
The mega-garbage dump takes in about a quarter of the garbage the city produces – and has an important role in overall waste management in Delhi. But for the thousands living for decades near the `khatta’ – as they call the landfill – is a huge problem. Something they have to face every moment of their lives.
Around 100 metres from the landfill, Mullah Colony is the residential locality situated nearest to it. In a locality of around 10,000 people who live in pucca houses, the “khatta” is an omnipresent entity affecting their life in multiple ways.
“You are lucky that the air is not flowing from the direction presently, or you wouldn’t be able to stand here for more than few minutes due to the stench,” says Amjad, a man in his twenties, lying on the cot outside his house.
Despite arriving at a relatively better time, according to the residents of Mullah Colony, the smell was repulsive.
“We have relatives all over the city and outside too. But barring weddings or Eid and Diwali, no one likes to come here,” says Amjad.
“Even during wedding, people don’t like to stay here overnight. They finish eating and rush back to their places. We struggle to find brides for our boys here,” he adds.
Fussing over the lack of a social life is the least of the concerns of Mullah Colony residents.
Health issues, ranging from breathlessness and tuberculosis to inadequate body weight, are attributed by the local people to the “khatta” and the foul smell that comes from it.
“Rarely one lives beyond 60 here. People have their bellies swollen up disproportionately. When one gets sick, it takes very long time to recover,” says Amjad.
During rainy season the problem magnifies when the garbage gets mixed with water and starts flowing down to the doorsteps of people in Mullah Colony.
“The garbage starts decomposing after mixing with rain and produces an awful stench, which even enters inside our houses. Comparatively, winter is the best season for us,” says Khursheed, another resident.
In the summer, chemical reactions trigger minor fires in the landfill. Sometimes, the fires turn big and consume a part of the garbage pile-up.
For people living near the landfill site, the fires brings an added round of misery with smoke and soot entering their houses, and filling their lungs with toxic particles.
Amjad’s uncle Mohammad Hanif recalls the time when they came here 20 years back.
“It was not as big then as it is today. It has risen exponentially in the last 10-12 years. Earlier also the problem of foul smell was there but the problem related to fires and the resultant smoke was very less,” says the elderly.
Apart from Mullah Colony, there are a dozen other localities which are affected by the landfill.
“Rajveer Colony, Khoda Colony, Sapera Basti, Kondli and many more localities are affected by this landfill. We have urged people in the government to do something about it but our complaints have not been listened to yet,” says Hanif.
“Even the sweepers don’t come here. Once few came but they ran away due to the stench,” he adds.
In the nearby Ghazipur DDA colony, middle-class households are also up in arms against the landfill site.
Sanjeev Singh, who has lived there for 17 years, says he has developed breathlessness. “For the last few years I have been getting headaches and find myself out of breath while walking around the colony,” says the retired government employee.
Anil Pandey, another retired government servant, and a resident of the locality for 24 years, says the polluted air from the landfill was hitting senior citizens the worst.
Meanwhile, disillusioned residents of Mullah Colony want a final solution to the problem and not just “another visit by a journalist”.
“Near a landfill site in Rohini, government has developed a park which absorbs the stench that comes from the site. The other solution could be to put soil on it or some chemicals which suppress the stench,” says Amjad.