Indian residents walk along a road near the Ghazipur landfill site in the east of New Delhi, June 3, 2019. (Photo: VCG)
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 United Nations considers one of the world's most polluted capitals.
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 soccer pitches, Ghazipur rises by nearly 10 meters 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 meters high.
At its current rate of growth, it will be taller than the iconic Taj in Agra, about 73 meters 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 tons of garbage is dumped at Ghazipur each day," a Delhi municipal official said on condition of anonymity.
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 Center 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 said 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.
They said a plant that recycles waste into energy next to the dump increases their misery because the smoke it releases by burning trash is also poisonous.
A recent study said the dump was a health risk for people living within five kilometers, including for cancer.
A government survey conducted between 2013 and 2017 reported that Delhi saw 981 deaths from acute respiratory infection while more than 1.7 million residents suffered from infections.
And India's garbage mountains will only get bigger in coming years.
Indian cities are among the world's largest garbage producers, generating 62 million tons of waste annually. By 2030, that could rise to 165 million tons, according to government figures.