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MCD election: Time for Delhi to borrow smart ideas for civic reforms

Delhi doesn’t have much to flaunt as far as civic management goes. Its air is foul and roads are clogged with 10 million vehicles. Much of the city goes under water every time it rains hard. For every legally constructed building, there are two built illegally.

columns Updated: Apr 06, 2017 17:09 IST
Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
MCD election,MCD elections,Shivani Singh
At least 9,100 tonnes of garbage is shipped out of homes, shops, malls, schools, hospitals and markets in Delhi every day. The landfill sites at Ghazipur (above), Bhalaswa, and Okhla have run out of capacity and means to manage waste.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

In this column last week, I wrote about redefining the role of mayors in Delhi. This week, let’s look into what a dynamic civic leadership can achieve.

As already argued, in Delhi’s case, empowered mayors would lend a face and accountability to the three municipal corporations that now function with a sense of anonymity.

Delhi, anyway, doesn’t have much to flaunt as far as civic management goes. Its air is foul and roads are clogged with 10 million vehicles. Much of the city goes under water every time it rains hard. For every legally constructed building, there are two built illegally. The city has run out of space to dump its mounting piles of garbage. Its river resembles an open sewer. In seismic zone four, its fragile buildings can fall like a pack of cards if an earthquake strikes.

Not surprisingly, Delhi ranked 161st for the second year in a row on the Mercer 2017 Quality of Living Index, a global comparative survey of 231 cities in terms of how it is to live and work there.

The civic mess that is Delhi demands the Centre, the state and the civic agencies to join hands and fight the crisis. It demands big ideas and true commitment to see them through.

Across the world, civic leadership takes the lead in shaping big cities through dynamism and visionary thinking. In Delhi, as political parties put together their poll agenda for the civic elections due on April 23, here are some ideas they could think about.

In Delhi, except for informal interventions, we have almost no mechanism to segregate garbage. Just as it has no mechanism to reduce waste generation. Brazil’s Curitiba recognised the problem early. “We can’t have landfills forever, and we can’t ask others to accept our trash. Garbage removal is a citizen responsibility,” said the then city mayor Jaime Lerner launching his Green Exchange programme in 1989.

Under this scheme, Curitiba residents trade garbage for tokens that can be exchanged for bus tickets, food, and school-books. Today, 90% of the city participates in its recycling programme, and more than 10,000 residents make use of the trash-for-tokens exchange. Curitiba recycles 70% of its garbage.

Accountability is another key issue. Thanks to multiple jurisdictions, most Delhi residents don’t know who to call to fix a cratered road, a broken streetlight, a blocked drain or a traffic snarl. It is never easy to tell who is responsible for not fixing a civic problem.

In 2003, New York City got its 24-hour 311 helpline, a one-stop shop for all complaints and information on civic issues, when its then mayor Michael Bloomberg saw an overturned garbage can and asked his officials which civic agency he could complain to. He got three different answers from three of his aides. (How to Make Cities Great, Mckinsey, 2013)

A decade on, the helpline now receives over two million complaints a year — mostly about noise, illegal parking, blocked driveways and potholes. Delhi can certainly do with such a single channel grievance redress service.

Or consider those slums outside Delhi’s civic map. Once home to the world’s most violent drug cartel led by Pablo Escobar, Medellin’s slums are now an example of social integration, thanks to the efforts of its mayor Sergio Fajardo, a Mathematics professor.

During 2004-07, his team held “imagination workshops” for comuna (slum) dwellers to redesign their neighbourhoods. Elevated metros, cable cars, bridges and escalators were planned to link previously disconnected neighbourhoods. Libraries, community buildings and cultural centres were built for people to come together, interact and learn, the Guardian reported last year.

This March, Buenos Aires City’s mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta opened his office in Villa 31, a shanty town and once a hub of drug-trafficking. Villa 31 is up for a civic overhaul with funding from the World Bank and the mayor will go there to work every Tuesday.

When the project brings running water, sewage treatment and electricity to the neighbourhood’s 40,000 residents, the administration will shift its education ministry here. “For long, the city had its back toward this area. What we are doing is opening up the streets (and) reconnecting it to Buenos Aires,” Diego Fernández, secretary of urban and social integration, told the Buenos Aires Herald.

No shame in borrowing smart ideas that not only make a city smart but also responsible, humane and inclusive.

First Published: Apr 03, 2017 13:00 IST