Andrew Buncombe joins Mumbai’s hardy army of 44 pest controllers with the task of exterminating the city’s 88 million rats
Mr Ubhare is among a 44-strong team that represents the frontline in the battle against an estimated 88m rats besieging India’s largest metropolis. Every night he and his colleagues endure filthy conditions and the risk of disease to kill rats with nothing more than a metal-tipped stick and a torch. Should they fail to meet their quota of 30 rodents by the time the sun comes up, they have 24 hours to make up the shortfall or lose a day’s pay.
Yet these rat catchers – deemed essential by the city authorities and recently the subject of a documentary shown at Cannes – are under threat. Animal rights activists want to put an end to the rat-killing, saying it is inhumane. Officials say the matter it is being considered.
Sometimes it seems rats are everywhere in Mumbai. They scurry in the quiet, tree-lined streets of Colaba and pause late at night on the platform at Churchgate station as the last, weary commuters make their way home to the suburbs. The damp, cramped conditions, with rubbish and litter strewn in the streets, creates an ideal environment for vermin and a report earlier this year estimated the rat population was growing annually by 10 per cent. Slum areas such as Dharavi and Govandi are said to be home to the most.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (BMC) employs various ways of tackling the issue, including traps and poison, but insists that the night rat killers (NRK) play an essential role. Yogesh Naik, an official with the sanitation department, said he only wishes there were more.
“We only have 44 rat killers. They can cover from Churchgate to Dadar. We’d like to enlarge the area we cover. We need 200 to cover the whole city,” he said, saying that they were currently filling 92 more positions. “The problem is red tape.”