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Rubbish police to patrol Madrid streets

Madrid city hall is to deploy a 300-strong brigade of rubbish police to patrol the streets of the Spanish capital and slap draconian fines on those who search dustbins for food, urinate against trees, toss cigarette ends into the gutter or sprinkle the pavements when watering pot plants on their balconies.

Under a controversial regulation approved at the weekend by Madrid’s conservative city council, the specialised police will have powers to rummage through residents’ bins and fine them up to €750 (£663) if their rubbish isn’t properly sorted for recycling.

Socialist councillors condemned the Cleaning Ordinance as “absurdly disproportionate”, punitive and unenforceable.

Anyone who drops paper on the street, or the tiny husks of “pipas”

or sunflower seeds, much enjoyed by Madrilenos who create a little pile at their feet while sitting on a bench watching the world go by, will be fined up to €750. Don’t even think of taking your toddler to feed the ducks or pigeons in the park. That too may cost you €750.

More serious offences, such as leaving your dog’s mess unscooped, or – in a city all but devoid of public lavatories – urinating against a tree, could set you back €1,500. Those who spray graffiti may have to cough up €3,000.

The most controversial regulation targets poor and hungry people who search through the capital’s rubbish containers, especially those outside supermarkets, for discarded food, or cardboard to sleep on, or to sell. They risk being fined €750 if caught with their hands in the bin.

That measure was “absolutely shameful,” Raquel Lopez, for the oppositionUnited Left party, said. “Anyone who is in such need doesn’t do it out of choice, but to survive. And it’s not just the indigent who look for food in containers, but many elderly people.”

The regulation was punitive and unenforceable, and sought only to make money, Ms Lopez said. “The town hall would need a police officer for every dustbin to enforce this absurdly disproportionate regulation,” she added.

The Socialist councillor Pedro Santin warned: “The town hall will spy on residents, and violate their privacy.”

The rubbish crackdown is the work of Madrid’s environment chief, Ana Botella, wife of Spain’s conservative former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar. “The regulation seeks to defend the rights of the majority and fine those who disturb the rights of that majority,” she insisted.

Countering criticisms that she was punishing the poor, Ms Botella said: “I refuse to live in a society where I must accept that people rummage in rubbish for food.”