Bhopal's Dysfunctional Municipality

Two or three days ago the local daily Dainik Bhaskar published photographs of deplorable condition of roads. Drains were shown as overflowing and so were sewers and this was happening right across the town. I got interested as one of the photographs was from my neighbourhood on the Idgah Hills.

The manhole that was overflowing was the one on the tri-junction of Cambridge School and it seems to have been overflowing for a few days. It does so frequently; perhaps the sewer lines do not have the capacity to take the muck and it gets accumulated until it moves upwards and finds an outlet through manhole cover.

I think it is highly callous of the Municipal Corporation to allow this noxious fluid to flow freely through the road with substantial traffic passing by every minute. Students of Cambridge School go sloshing through the accumulated filthy water. Besides, a fishmonger sets up his shop on the road next to it and vegetable and fruit sellers park their pushcarts not far from it. People buy their needs despite the very unhygienic surroundings. Surely the Corporation officials would be collecting their informal tax (hafta) from these street-merchants periodically. And yet all these people are made to ply their trade in such insanitary environment.

Free-flowing manholes are so common that when we see one we take it as given. Actually, when we come across municipal workers de-choking a manhole we are surprised as it is something which is rarely witnessed. And, if the municipal workers happen to be wielding a de-choking machine it would seem to be out of this world. The other day, while passing by from the New Market area I happened to come across a municipal worker at work on an overflowing drain with a machine. The Municipality, quite obviously, has these machines that have been bought at the tax-payers’ expense, yet these are generally moth-balled or are deployed in areas inhabited by VIPs or are not deployed at all. The overflowing drain near Cambridge School is a case in point.   

My mind travelled back a few decades to pre-independence India where the municipality of Gwalior, the capital of the princely state of Gwalior used to do these civic jobs quite regularly. Although all the operations were done manually yet they were done at regular intervals. As a child I used to position myself on the verandah of our first floor house overlooking the street to get a ring side view of what the municipal workers would be up to. I distinctly remember the equipment they used to bring to switch on a tap embedded in the road and to attach a fat hose to it to wash the roadside drains. The high pressure of water from the hose would clean away in minutes all the muck in drains deposited over time.

Likewise, two people would come to clean the manholes. They would remove the heavy lid and uncover the manhole and one of them would climb down into it with a pan tied to a rope. He would manually shovel the muck into the pan and then holler for the other to pull it up. A pretty simple operation and, if conducted regularly, was devoid of any risks. In our national capital this system was prevalent until recently when a few workers were killed by the noxious gases. Obviously manholes had not been cleaned regularly and the lethal gases were allowed to accumulate.

Soon after independence all these operations were discontinued, seemingly because we had gained freedom and cleaning up the muck from the drains apparently became redundant. It is such a pity that what a feudal administration could ensure for the health and wellbeing of the citizens the people’s own governments have been unable to do. During the feudal times it was the fear of the higher-ups that made the municipal workers to carry out their duties regularly and sincerely. Now it is free for all; nobody needs to carry out one’s duties. Besides, things have become so big that the right hand does not know what the left hand does. In the process, hardly anything gets done. No wonder things are in a mess.

The Municipal Corporation is provided with every necessity by way of men and material and yet it fails to carry out its duties. Obviously, it is very loosely administered and the officers have no grip over the areas of their activities. It is nothing but sheer inertia and carelessness that keeps them away from carrying out their functions effectively. No wonder the city suffers from the ravages of overflowing manholes, potholed roads, denuded  greenery and what have you.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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