Between February and May 2016, at least four fires blazed in Mumbai's open landfill in the neighbourhood of Deonar near Chembur. This threw the spotlight on the dire condition of the Mumbai's waste management systems.
Accusations were thrown around, and multiple reasons cited, for the abysmal condition of the city's dumping grounds. Waste isn't segregated at the household level in Mumbai. The city generates huge amounts of refuse and recycles very little. There is a criminal nexus. And so on.
A new short documentary by the YouTube channel Being Indian revisits the problem. Narrated by actor Dia Mirza, it features interviews with, among others, Arun Kumar, CEO of Apnalaya; Jyoti Mhapsekar, President of Stree Mukti Sanghatana; Sandip Rane, Cardiologist; and Vijay Balamwar, Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Solid Waste Management at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
Many of the people who live and work in the area also speak of their experiences. At a particularly poignant moment in the film, referring to accusations levelled at rag pickers, Habiba Begum, whose son was arrested, asks, "It's our livelihood. What will we get from setting fire to it?"
The film also offers facts related to garbage in Mumbai, which also apply to other cities in the country. After the fires in the dumping ground, India's financial capital had the worst quality of air in the entire country. Only the sea breeze could bring it back to normalcy.
While many probing questions are asked, the film does not provide any satisfying answers to the problem. Biogas and waste generation plants are on their way, and a few NGOs are undertaking waste segregation schemes, but it all seems a long way away.