Last week-end I took my beloved on a romantic trip to Chennai's main landfill site. As we approached the site the sweet smell of shit filled the air and a haze of smoke blocked out the sun. We coughed our way inside, through fumes erupting from piles of rotting refuse, waving away buzzing flies and mosquitoes. A mangy, pussy-eyed old dog sat at the side of a jet-black stream scratching its behind, while various people meandered around the site doing I don't know what. Sorting the rubbish? Scavenging? Contracting some kind of hideous skin rash? All of the above and more.
Outside the dump a group of local residents had gathered to express their protest at the state of affairs. The dump is huge (400 acres) and illegal and its right on the doorstep of a large number of poor families. These poor buggers have been housed courtesy of the Slum Clearance Board. This institution is supposed to move destitute people from squalid homes in slums and put them in decent housing elsewhere. But times change, and now the process seems to have reversed. The residents here used to live elsewhere in the city but had to move due to highways being built, or other developments. So now they live in squalid accommodation next to a massive pile of shit.
Actually shit is the least of their worries. It's the carcinogens in the air that really bother them (air samples from the yard taken on January 22, 2007 and analysed by Colombia Laboratory Services in California revealed the presence of 33 noxious gases, five of which are carcinogenic). And the prospect of contracting malaria from the monster clouds of mosqitoes that roam these parts.
This wasn't what the World Bank had in mind, I'm sure, when they funded these apartment blocks. No, Kodungaiyur dump yard won't appear on the front cover of their annual report. Just another unfortunate by-product of the long march to a globalised tomorrow.
Protesting Indian-style. Nice masks.
It'll take more than a massive pile of human waste to keep this lot down. I hope.