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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

BHOPAL NOTES - 20 :: OF ENCROACHMENTS & POLITICAL CHICANERY

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Removal of encroachments in progress



What kind of a municipal corporation do we have which does not care for its assets, that is, people’s assets that need to be available for use by the people? A report recently said that after a drive to remove encroachments near the Bhopal Junction Railway Station the staff of the municipal corporation discovered a bus stop that was heavily encroached upon and was, apparently, unrecognizable. They were taken aback by their find and what is worse, the staff and their supervisor did not even know of it till they stumbled upon it. It is a very strange state of affairs. One wonders whether buses used to ply on the route, and, if so where they would be stopping to pick up passengers all these years.

The removal of encroachments was the brain-child of the Mayor. He was ably assisted by his minions, the magistracy and a squad of policemen with their inspectors. Policemen are very necessary on such drives as the encroachers very often tend to get violent. One gets amazed at the scale of encroachments. About 100 shops, kiosks (read gumties) and hand carts were removed from the area freeing up a very large circulating area for the traffic which had shrunk to a few measly square-feet. Not only the freed space would have no congestion now, the passengers coming to the Railway Station in their personal or hired vehicles will have an easier time.

The encroachments could never have taken place had the municipal officials been vigilant. But the problem actually is that even if they happen to be alert and vigilant they are pressurized by the elected public representatives like members of legislative assembly (MLAS) or municipal councilors to wink at such illegal occupation. For every shop that has encroached on public space or a kiosk or even a handcart selling odd merchandise these worthies collect (illegal) rent from those who are allowed to encroach. While they thus fatten up, the public is left to fend for itself through the confusion that is created. The entire town is full of encroachments – illegal occupation of public spaces because of these petty, unscrupulous politicians who make money by forcing other government servants/municipal employees to allow such unauthorized occupation. They are kind of a scourge for the society.

Once the then minister of Urban Administration & Development had got a dhaba demolished that had existed for more than twenty years. Soon thereafter we from the Citizens’ Forum had an occasion to call on him. During the conversation it was remarked that it was good that he had got a 20-year old encroachment demolished but what about action against the municipal men who allowed the encroachment in the first place and then allowed it to be continued. He blandly said here there was no concept accountability. Obviously, the municipal officials or government servants could allow illegal use of public properties earning gratification for years enriching themselves at the expense of the public and could go scot-free without any action against them. (Elected public representatives are naturally out of reckoning for this purpose.) This appeared to be the “system”. No wonder there are encroachments galore all over the town; if one area is made free of encroachments today, the same would be encroached upon the next day and the government and the municipality repeatedly have to use their resources to clear them at considerable expense to the tax-payer.

Soon after the anti-encroachment drive around the railway station another was planned in a congested area but that was stopped reportedly on the intervention of a member of the Legislative Assembly, Vishwas Sarang, who is gradually acquiring a powerful stature. His birthdays are celebrated with pomp and show and his residential property on the Link Road No.1 is brightly decked up. This is where quite illegally Suzuki is reportedly opening a NEXA outlet in an area that is purely residential. Politicians and ministers attending his parties here disdainfully used to park their vehicles on the BRTS corridor when it was still there. Now it seems the corridor has gone out of existence – perhaps at his instance. Having been stopped in his tracks, the Mayor has had to look for some other area where, too, he removed tens of encroachments. Thankfully this time he has directed that the ward and zonal officers of the Corporation would be held responsible if the encroachments recurred.

But, the latest reports say that the Mayor’s drives have lost steam. The MLAs and other politicians, presumably all rent-collectors, have pressurized him to go slow. Hence the last drive resulted only removal of kiosks and hand carts whereas the encroachments caused by erecting a permanent sort of structures were not touched. In fact, these also are traffic hindrances and also constitute a more grave offence.

Clearly, if the things are chaotic in this city today it is not entirely because of the failure of civic organisations. It is the petty and unscrupulous politicians in the town who are more responsible for it. Recently a traffic police officer said that if men in his organization were allowed to work freely they would be able to straighten things out in no time the city’s chaotic traffic. What he said was largely true. Some important politicians had told members of the Citizens’ Forum dealing with traffic matters that as a matter of their duty they would interfere every time if they are told about any of their constituents falling on the wrong side of traffic laws.

Hence the crux of the matter is if governance in this capital city is in a mess it is to a very large extent because of the MLAs and municipal councillors. The civic authorities working for making the citizens’ life easier are not being allowed to function according to the relevant laws by these political worthies. The latter are a bane for the city and the state - even the country – in fact, for the entire society.


Curiously, this town has a pretty massive Institute of Good Governance. No one, however, knows what it does. Perhaps, it is time it started educating politicians in this state bringing home to them the principles of “Good Governance”.  

*Photo: from internet
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