Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Back to the Future: A visit to Pune's Landfill Urli Devachi

Our bus, full of environmentalists, technocrats, PMC officials and civic activists, dodges between mounds of old dirt. Some of us have grabbed our kerchiefs and saree pallus to stop the suffocating stench that breezes towards us. The horizon has mounds and mounds of colourless waste scattered over 6 acres which landmovers are ploughing and leveling. Welcome to Urla Devachi, the landfill that houses all the waste that you and me created year after year!

I squint my eyes looking for something pleasant. A Solapur blanket that the JCB has just lifted from the mound, a wafer packet flying in the wind, a broken toy, all appear and then disappear. Everytime the jaws of the machine lifts the dirt, a team of ragpickers rush to catch anything that they can retrieve. This is the last recycling that will fetch them their day’s meal. The rest of course, no human wants and will go back to the earth to stay there for eternity.

Urli Devachi can take no more dirt; or at least the villagers nearby have said that they don’t want anymore of our dirt! So for the last 3 years, the dirt has stayed put awaiting plans and schemes of the PMC. Some of the waste is converted into compost, The brackish water is used for spraying the dirt since it cannot be used for anything else. Attempts are being made to catch the harmful methane gases that keep escaping into the atmosphere. While at a far distance away a few fields lend colour to the horizon, at the landfill there is no flora or fauna and no bird life except for an occasional black drango sitting solitarily on a pole nearby.

If nature has abandoned Urli Devachi, the lowest of us human beings haven’t. Ragpickers, having been condemned to a life of scavenging, are always around hoping to find something to stuff into their bags and take back to the city for sale. They have no protection gear and look as colourless as the waste they work with. The PMC officials accompanying us gave us fancy plans of how they wished to deal with the landfill. They boasted that they had sprayed the area so that you would not find any flies. But never once did they mention what they would do for the ragpickers who assisted them at the site.

Which brings us back to the question of our present human civilization and the relationships we have created with other human beings and with mother earth. The earth is our only home, yet we flog her, extract her resources and then dump our waste into the holes we leave in her. Human beings are our only companions on this earth that can assist our lives, yet we render some of them to lives of dispossession and destitution. We give some of them the meaniest jobs like handling our waste and care less for what happens afterwards. “Out of sight is out of mind”, however, interconnections and interdependence on planet earth will soon catch up with us.

We drive back to the city and are somewhat relieved to see the beautiful painted buildings and malls. We are going back to our homes full of designer furniture, multiple cell phones, TVs and computers, kitchen appliances, and what have you. In a few decades they too will become waste. Where will they go? The PMC officials tells us that they are looking for new landfills. Our economy is racing at a boisterous 9 % GDP growth and our kachra kondis will be fuller. Similarly, there will be more ragpickers and scrap dealers to handle the load. We have grown more sensitive to foreign music and international culinary delights, but have become desensitised to what we are doing to our environment. We talk of political and economic freedoms, but care less for moral and spiritual freedom which includes our personal responsibility to the earth.

Give me more! Our consumption appetites have become larger, bigger and faster. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has become a rhetoric for environment days. We will talk of global warming in air-conditioned rooms. We will fly to environment seminars. We will calculate carbon footprints of others but not of ourselves. Meanwhile, in our backyard, Urli Devachi will inevitably find its sister in another landfill. Only this time the tax payer will make sure that expensive technology will make it look not so dismal and ugly, it will be a beautiful landfill worth a visit!

By Delia Maria


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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