If you were to dump the garbage the city produces every day (more than 10,000 metric tonnes) for four days at Oval Maidan, one of the city’s largest open spaces (it measures around 22 acres), the pile would rise to a height of three feet.
Another scenario: If the same amount of garbage was dumped on a one-acre plot, wide enough to accommodate more than four 1,000-sqft homes, the waste would rise to the height of a one-storeyed structure.
It is not surprising to know then that the Deonar dumping ground, the biggest and oldest one in the city, has today reached the height of an 18-storeyed tower, spread across 132 hectares of land. It will now need a nod from the Airport Authority of India to grow any further.
This is the reality of India’s financial capital, a city which not very long ago was fed with dreams of becoming another Shanghai.
While the country is in throes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, closer home, the city’s streets constantly reflect the need for such a drive to take shape urgently.
Of all the metros, Mumbai, true to its Maximum City status, generates the most amount of garbage. New Delhi, three times its size, produces around 8,000 metric tonnes (MT) of garbage daily, significantly less than Mumbai.
Bangalore and Chennai produce nearly half the amount Mumbai does — around 4,000 and 5,000 MT respectively.
The city’s daily garbage generation — the figures are contested by several experts in the industry who claim it is much lesser — has, however, spawned an industry from which many benefit, particularly the nexus between officials and contractors.
From the contractors who are paid Rs970 crore over five years just to collect trash, to civic officials who allow the contractor to do a shoddy job, to the dumping ground operating companies who get paid more if they show more garbage coming to the dump yard. The only one who loses here is the citizen.
The result of this high generation and little efficiency: A travel portal’s survey in 2012 among global travellers showed Mumbai was among the world’s dirties cities.
On paper, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has resources matching this herculean task — it spends thousands of crores every year (more than Rs8,000 crore in the past five years alone), deploys several sweepers on the streets every day and puts more than 3,000 machines to work each morning.
The BMC), however, isn’t the only culprit in this tale. Citizens who litter without a second thought — be it that innocuous biscuit wrapper from the train window to the motorist who rolls down his window and lets loose a shameful jet of red betel juice — they are equally culpable. Litterbugs often argue the lack of dustbins drives many towards having no choice but to litter.
The BMC’s figures confirm this — while the city needs more than 20,000 bins, all it has are a handful, around 3,500 bins existing today.
Despite the problems, keeping the city clean is not such a herculean task, says Dr SR Maley, a member of the SC-appointed committee on solid waste management, whose recommendations gave the country the Municipal Solid Waste rules of 2000.
“It is not rocket science to keep Mumbai clean. The BMC has gone wrong with things as small as collecting waste efficiently, providing enough bins, among others. All the civic body has to do is tighten the two ends — of collecting garbage efficiently and then treating it scientifically,” Maley said.
Now, with the Mumbai Makeover dreams finally giving way to a serious conversation about cleanliness, will the city rise up to show just why it was once, the Urbs Prima in India?