Long after the government abolished feudalism, the jagirdari system continues to live on in Indore, perpetuated by spoils generated from waste collection.
The "jagirs" are chunks of cityscape carved out by sweepers and passed on from father to son and even given to daughters in dowry. Money earned from a particular "garbage fiefdom" goes to the concerned jagirdar, who may then distribute part of it down the line.
Like the feudal system of political and revenue administration from which it draws its name, the jagirdari of waste collection dates back to the Mughal era. "Peedhiyon se chala aa raha hai (it has been going on for generations)," said Jatashankar Karosia, president of Indore Nagar Nigam Safai Karamchari Mahasangh. Karosia said the system had been backed by the erstwhile Holkar state during the pre-Independence era.
"A delegation of Harijan community members met the Maharaj on March 1, 1938 and he granted permission for the system. Since then, March 1 has been a holiday for sanitation workers," he said.
Many people have certificates on stamp papers of Rs 5 and Rs 10 denomination that were prevalent back then, said Karosia who divides his time between the union office at IMC headquarters and an office at Palika Plaza.
So is it true that jagirs are also given away in dowry, either in part or in toto? "Of course, it is a hereditary system," said the union boss who leads the IMC’s 6,000-odd sanitation workers. There are about 200-odd jagirdars in the city, he said. Solid waste management (SWM) project consultant Asad Warsi said, “The jagirdari system is one of the reasons why the corporation could not implement doorstep-level waste collection. The jagirdars don’t let anyone else work in their area.”
Things, however, may be a little different in the new door-to-door waste collection project currently under consideration. "Mayor Krishna Murari Moghe has directed that the proposal be prepared in a manner so that existing jagirdars are incorporated," he said.
Another CHO, Dr DC Garg, said, "There are difficulties. In the end the people will decide whether they want the work to be done by jagirdars or IMC."