Sinking cities, smart slogans

Politics in India, after having discarded morality and decency, seems to have also got a divorce from governance. Nothing else explains the squalid politicking in the wake of citywide water-logging and heavy traffic jams that followed rains in the national Capital last week.

The municipal corporations, under the Bharatiya Janata Party, accused the Delhi government for not cleaning of drains before the arrival of monsoon. There were massive traffic jams all over the city on Thursday, with commuters spending hours on the road in the evening. “I saw the traffic jams too. But the biggest reason behind the traffic was the failure of the Delhi government. All the roads affected were the main roads or flyovers, which are not under our jurisdiction,” Subhash Arya, the Leader of the House in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), told The Hindu.

His North Corporation counterpart Vijay Prakash Pandey also made a similar charge, blaming the Public Works Department, which is under the Delhi state government, for the mess: “We don’t want to politicize the issue, but the fact remains that the PWD has not finished de-silting its drains. Because the main drains are not cleaned, the water flows backward into colonies, too.”

In fact, East and North Delhi Municipal Corporations claimed that they had completed 105 per cent of their de-silting targets. The entire problem, they claimed, was with the PWD—actually, with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government.

Typically, the Delhi government had an entirely different story to tell. An official was quoted in the media, saying, “It was observed that the problem of water-logging occurred because of lot of flow of silt and sludge from the MCD drains, which are upstream of PWD drains.”

The fact is that neither of two parties that matter in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP, have any interest in doing anything meaningful. The sole purpose of their leaders is to belittle each other. This is despite the fact that clogged drains of the national Capital have been a problem for years.

Way back in July 2014, The Times Of India carried a report about the findings by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India on de-silting. “During 2010-13, the flood control department removed 830,000 cubic metres of silt from the Najafgarh and Trunk one drains. However, only about 100,000 cubic metres of it was moved away. When asked why the rest was dumped right next to the drains, the department said its banks were large enough and the silt wouldn’t go back in.”

Under Delhi Master Plan, 2001, the authorities set up a committee for this purpose in 2005, but it did nothing until 2012. “That’s when the work was handed over to IIT Delhi. However, government agencies have till date not handed over any data to IIT Delhi, and thus the work is stuck,” the TOI report said.

Evidently, nothing has been done since then either by the Centre or the Delhi government. Nor is anything of consequence being done today, even as the Narendra Modi government is gung-ho about ‘smart cities’; there is even a “mission” to promote such cities.

“In the approach of the Smart Cities Mission,” the official document says, “the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas, create a replicable model which will act like a light house to other aspiring cities. The Smart Cities Mission of the Government is a bold, new initiative.”

On the ground, however, the only boldness one comes across is from the statements of government officials, both of the Central and Delhi governments.