DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bhopal's dysfunctional municipal corporation

A report in a local newspaper a few days back spoke about the callousness of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) in handling complaints of felling of trees in the city. A large number of trees have been illegally felled and complaints were duly lodged with the BMC but no action was taken. Only BMC has the authority to permit felling of trees and for taking punitive legal action in case they are illegally felled. Thousands of complaints are reported to have been lodged but no action has been taken. The excuse of the BMC is that it does not have the required manpower. Fear has, therefore, been expressed that unless strict action is taken against those who fell trees without permission the city is going to be denuded of its trees.

This is not a solitary instance of the Corporation’s apathetic ways and of drifting along, doing nothing to improve the conditions in the city. Take for instance the matter relating to maintenance of the the Upper and Lower lakes the responsibility for which rests with the Corporation. Although the Upper Lake continues to be the source of drinking water for around 40% of the city’s population the Corporation has miserably failed to ensure its proper upkeep. Same is the case with the Lower Lake. Sewer lines still continue to pour into them despite expenditure of several crores of rupees that has been made to plug them. Encroachments around them, not prevented over the years in good time, abound and have led to shrinkage of their spreads. The Corporation, despite possessing the authority, the powers and the wherewithal, has remained a mute witness. Whether the inaction is because lack of availability of the required manpower resources or generous greasing of palms is a matter for investigation.

Again, the project of bringing waters of the Narmada River to the city. The government had once promised that Narmada waters would be brought to the town by November 2008. This was an extravagant assurance given in the face of acute shortage of water felt by the citizens during the summer of that year. However, three years on, according to a recent report, the BMC has not been able to complete construction of numerous water tanks to receive waters of the River. Only 40% of the work has been completed. Although the project was to be completed by December 2011, it is now likely to be completed by December next year, that is, if the people of this town are lucky. Adequate water supply for the citizens of this town still remains a distant dream.

Much has been written in recent times about the roads in the city. Apart from the roads that are to be converted into the BRTS corridor, most areas in new and old Bhopal have been dug up for various kinds of works such as laying of sewer or water pipelines. No one knows when they will be re-done. The works are being carried out on borrowed money – either loans from Asian Development Bank, the Department for International Development of UK, HUDCO or on grants under JNNURM. It would be interesting to ascertain to what extent the city is indebted to these lending institutions and whether the works carried out on loans have brought any improvement in the city or the lives of its denizens. Generally, the contractors carrying out these works are expected to put back the dug up roads in their original condition. But that seldom happens, as they, in active cooperation of municipal officials, do not do that and earn extra profits. As the Corporation is perennially short of funds chances of the excavated roads getting back to original condition in the foreseeable future are bleak. The only silver lining is that the government, nervous about the next elections, has asked the PWD to do them up. But how many of them it takes up and re-lays remains to be seen as the total kilometreage that has to be covered is pretty daunting. There are already reports of lack of funds for the purpose.

Instead of random digging of the roads it would have been desirable for the Corporation to take up only as much of the works as it could manage within the available financial resources. But, no, it has gone and dug up virtually the entire town causing inconvenience to every citizen, exposing them to dust and ill health. What is more, the roads inside the colonies too have been dug up. These are supposed to be maintained by the respective municipal councillors who take their own time to do them up and that too in their own shoddy way. Obviously, the upturned shoddy roads inside the colonies are going to stay as such for quite a while unless the astrological configurations of those who reside in them change for the better soon enough.

Between dug up roads and rampant encroachments on them it has become difficult for people to negotiate their way down to their respective destinations. Despite the availability of the required staff encroachments are never prevented. It could be either because of sheer incompetence or pervasive corruption. The Corporation does launch drives occasionally to remove encroachments but these are restricted to few areas and are, in any case, few and far between. Despite involvement of avoidable costs neither action is taken against the official who ignores or allows encroachments to occur nor is any fine imposed on the encroacher. Public money is thus repeatedly wasted. The Urban Administration Minister had once admitted that there was no system of fixing responsibility for the encroachments that occur on public spaces. No wonder, these occur repeatedly, mostly at the same places, allowing municipal officials to get away without any penalty for their negligence or corrupt ways. The larger interests of the people are, obviously, of no consideration.

The BMC has also failed to maintain cleanliness and sanitation, more so in the residential colonies of the town. Piles of garbage and overflowing sewers making the dusty roads slushy are more of a rule than exception. Barring the arterial roads and VIP areas, the rest of the town remains filthy and people are exposed to insanitation and health hazards. A local daily had covered a few weeks back all the wards one-by-one exposing the apathy and neglect of the Corporation in maintaining civic services in the town. Despite the exposure things have not improved. Looks like, the Corporation takes such exposures in its strides; it has become so brazen.

System-wise the Corporation is well-served. There are zones and wards with their respective heads and other paraphernalia. But nothing seems to work. The zonal heads have now been given Nano cars, presumably, to enable them to carry out their functions of monitoring and inspections more effectively. But there has hardly been any perceptible enhancement of civic amenities. Even earlier the Corporation was reported to be spending tens of crores of rupees on hiring vehicles for its officers but that had not improve matters. All its civic services have continued to remain in utter mess. In no way has the Corporation been able to lift the quality of life of the citizens of the town which, currently, is plumbing the depths.

Unless a radical change for the better overtakes it, the Corporation will have no business to continue to exist in its dysfunctional way.

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