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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Utilise resources to save our cities | Analysis

The way forward is to bring citizens, municipal corporations and state governments together

columns Updated: Oct 14, 2019 19:33 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
The problems that arise from floods have seen no solutions. Fixing these must be considered a priority
The problems that arise from floods have seen no solutions. Fixing these must be considered a priority (Photo: PTI)

The rainwater on the streets of Patna has dried after a heavy downpour that paralysed the city for days on end. But there is little respite since it has left behind mosquitoes, which bring with them the risk of dengue and other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, this is not very different from the pathetic situation seen in other cities. Earlier, Mumbai suffered in a similar fashion. Cities which are on river banks or on the sea coast have it worst since they are prone to water logging after heavy rains, which is then followed by intense heat.

The problems which arise from these disasters have become a part of our lives in India. After every natural disaster, we start attacking the government. We dwell on the failures of the municipal corporation and express our anger on social media. As a result, there are problems, complaints, and a lot of noise about all this, but there is no real solution in sight. This points to the urgent need to review the living conditions in our cities and metropolises. If we do not learn from such disasters, it is only a matter of time before they come back to us in a more terrifying and damaging manner, which we will struggle to fix.

Let us first look at the city administration. After Independence, our leaders talked about local self-government. Rajiv Gandhi introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1989 to give constitutional status to the panchayati raj. A speech he gave during that time is still discussed today. Emphasising the decentralisation of power, he said, if the Centre sends one rupee, it reduces to 15 paise by the time it reaches villages. However, his dream of reversing this could not be fulfilled in his lifetime. The bill got stuck in the Rajya Sabha. It was only later, in PV Narasimha Rao’s time, through the 73rd Constitution Amendment Bill, it was made a reality. It is appropriate that this bill was brought about with the aim of empowering villages, particularly gram sabhas, but the decentralisation of power was its ultimate aim. Much before that, during the British rule, corporate bodies were established with the same intention.

I remember the doubts which were raised in the 1990s when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government decided to hold a municipal corporation election once again. After all, what will the mayor do in metropolitan cities? How will all that which many legislators, members of Parliament and government machinery struggled to do, be fulfilled? Are we not going to impose another white elephant on our already decrepit system? By looking at the plight of Patna today, we can address some of these questions and concerns. Today, the posts of the mayor and the municipal corporation chairman have been reduced to being merely decorative titles. The dream of decentralisation of power seems to have reached its end.

Let us look at the example of America. On September 11, 2001, when the world trade towers were destroyed, Rudy Giuliani, the then Mayor of New York City, took charge of the situation to boost people’s morale. At that time, he had cancer but he continued to work tirelessly. He was at the site of the explosion, and took decisions from there. He monitored every little detail with a watchful eye. Needless to say, New York got back on its feet. This incident is often talked about in the context of terrorism, but people who visit the site always remember Giuliani’s words. After this tragedy, he said, “No one can stop us from moving forward. We will build a new New York which will be stronger, more magnificent than before.”

The mayor of New York City proved with his remarkable work during that critical hour of need that he was first and foremost, a citizen of the city. Unfortunately in India, this has been reduced to mere protocol. In areas where people from different parties are posted in the state government and bodies, they are often at loggerheads. The three municipal corporations of Delhi are examples. Also, it is not that the municipal corporations are short on resources. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation presented a budget of Rs 30,692 crore this year. New Delhi Municipal Corporation has an income-expenditure account of Rs 4,100 crores, while the budget of Patna Municipal Corporation is Rs 4,065 crores. If so much money is available , should services not improve?

This brings me to the utilisation of resources by administrators and city-dwellers in India. Rewind back to the plague that broke out in Surat in 1994. More than 50 people died because of it. As a result, lakhs of people left the city. Entire businesses collapsed. In such a situation, municipal commisioner Suryadevara Ramachandra Rao decided to step up to the plate. Under his leadership, the work of cleaning the city began. The city was divided into several zones. The report on everyday work was prepared and presented. And this was scrutinised in detail. Heavy fines were imposed on people who littered. And in less than three years, Surat became one of the cleanest cities in the country.

Today there are plants to sort out and recycle waste separately. Hundreds of vehicles collect garbage from millions of houses every day, which is then disposed of using scientific methods. Cities like Indore, Bhopal and Visakhapatnam have a similar story to tell. Unfortunately, most of the cities of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are still waiting for such positive efforts.

The role of citizens here is important. Whether it is cleanliness or encroachment, the maintenance of the resources provided by the corporation or general civic sense, the role of the public is always more important than that of the government in power. Look within — Are we and our neighbours discharging our duties as citizens?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal