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NEW DELHI: India’s tallest rubbish mountain in New Delhi is on course to rise higher than the Taj Mahal in the next year, becoming a fetid symbol for what the UN considers the world’s most polluted capital.

Hawks and other birds of prey hover around the towering Ghazipur landfill on the eastern fringe of New Delhi, stray cows, dogs and rats wander at will over the huge expanse of smoking filth.

Taking up the area of more than 40 football pitches, Ghazipur rises by nearly 10 metres a year with no end in sight to its foul-smelling growth.

According to East Delhi’s superintendent engineer Arun Kumar, it is already more than 65 metres (213 feet) high.

At its current rate of growth, it will be taller than the iconic Taj in Agra, some 73 metres high, in 2020.

India’s Supreme Court warned last year that red warning lights will soon have to be put on the dump to alert passing jets. It was not meant to be that way.

Ghazipur was opened in 1984 and reached its capacity in 2002 when it should have been closed. But the city’s detritus has kept on arriving each day in hundreds of trucks.

“About 2,000 tonnes of garbage is dumped at Ghazipur each day,” a Delhi municipal official said.

In 2018, a section of the hill collapsed in heavy rains killing two people.

Dumping was banned after the deaths, but the measure lasted only a few days because authorities could not find an alternative.

Fires, sparked by methane gas coming from the dump, regularly break out and take days to extinguish.

Shambhavi Shukla, senior researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said methane belching from the garbage can become even more deadly when mixed with atmosphere.

Leachate, a black toxic liquid, oozes from the dump into a local canal.

“It all needs to be stopped as the continuous dumping has severely polluted the air and ground water,” said Chitra Mukherjee, head of Chintan, an environment advocacy group.

Residents say the dump often makes breathing virtually impossible.

“The poisonous smell has made our lives hell. People fall sick all the time,” said 45-year-old local resident Puneet Sharma.

Protests do not work and now many people are leaving the district.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2019