URJA Editorial-April 2017

This edition of the newsletter was delayed as we waited for the results of Municipal elections in Delhi

The BJP, through its strategy of shedding the baggage of bad governance by shedding its own sitting councillors, and inducting a fresh batch of candidates to contest, has paid off electorally. The AAP, which comes a distant second has clearly been subjected to public displeasure. The congress which tried very hard failed to get much public support as the public see it as a party of dated ideas and uninspiring leadership.

The question we ask in URJA is; Does this change anything at all?

The AAP is still in Power as the State Government in Delhi and the BJP is back in the Municipal Corporation which is no different from the situation prior to these elections

It has been called a referendum on the Chief Minister’s performance in Delhi. Does it mean, by the same yardstick that it is a referendum on the MCDs performance as well? Surely the latter cannot be true.

But was this a vote on Delhi’s festering issues at all? Perhaps not. It was a vote on choosing between the leadership style of the Prime Minister & That of Delhi’s Chief Minister. Since there is a stark difference in both leadership styles, it was only natural that the public would be sharply divided in making their choices.

What should be said at this point is that the people of Delhi are failing to see that merely replacing one elected by another will not change things.  Good governance in Delhi has little to do with democratic representation anymore. Delhi suffers from excessive politics. It is full of elected representatives, political players, party activists and several other political creatures who harm Governance more than they can help. Delhi requires a smart and accountable administration. Delhi has a Master Plan, the MPD 2021, it is a statutory document, which is meant to be used as a road map for the city’s development. Delhi’s RWAs should push for its implementation and question the different departments if they have failed in implementing the provisions of MPD20121. The National vector Borne disease control Programme(NVBDCP) has a policy for fighting Dengue & Chikungunya. Fogging is not really recommended for fighting this Scourge. The RWa Instead of running to their Councillors for the annual drama of fogging to mislead the people, should instead put pressure on the Lt. Governor and the Municipal health officers responsible for this.

Delhi’s problems are vast and the administrative mechanisms inadequate. The state administration is conservative and mired in red tape. However, Delhi has an advantage. Being the country’s capital it also has some of the topmost experts in the field of technology, waste management, urban planning, environment, policing & security, and other disciplines that Delhi so desperately needs inputs from. Delhi also as an interested citizenry which is politically aware and socially active

We urge the new Municipal leadership as well as the Municipal and state Bureaucracy to be open to building collaborative mechanisms with Resident Welfare Associations(RWA), expert groups and other citizens’ collectives to work together to Renew Delhi.

A young lot of corporators has come into the municipal corporation and we hope that the state leadership of the BJP will be able to direct their energies positively and not let them get jaded and cynical as has often been the case in the past.

 

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URJA Editorial March 2017

The Municipal elections are due soon. Once again, after 5 years the task of electing the 272 municipal councillors will take place. The councillors represent the public of Delhi to the Municipal corporation in local issues such as parks, garbage and solid municipal waste management, internal roads, StreetSide hawking, Primary health care & education, and parking as well as sanction of building plans

The Municipal Corporators form the bed rock of representative democracy in the city and it can be easily said that the status of a municipal ward is significantly impacted by the Municipal councillor. Over the years much has been said about corruption etc., yet at the local level corruption does not seem to matter much. Corruption is very much a daily part of life in India and citizens themselves are participants in it in varying degree thereby making it a less important issue as compared to getting the Municipal Officers to work.

The public is concerned with efficiency and delivery of services and how they can go about their lives and pay their taxes, educate their children, and earn a living without broken roads and footpaths, overflowing garbage, inadequate lighting, dirty parks, the annual scourge of dengue and chikungunya and other such local issues which no political party has been able to resolve and get the officers in the various departments to deliver.

There is no data available with the public that can verify to it if any promises made by all political parties were fulfilled even minimally. However, RWAs have long memories and remember the promises made by parties in their last manifesto.

URJA has written to the election commission more than once that;

‘To begin with, we urge you to consider adding a column where a candidate who contests an election more than once, files an affidavit with the commission declaring the extent to which the promises made by him through his party manifesto in the past were fulfilled and provide ‘sufficient’ and ‘verifiable’ data to the commission to buttress his claim.’

So far, the election commission has not acted on our request but we shall continue to push for this.

We also have data* through RTI which shows us clearly that the questions raised by Municipal councillors in the house were very often not about the local grievances recorded by the Municipal corporations

The RWAs must make it a point to be more aware of facts and data and should duly bring it up with the councillors as well as candidates

The practice of carrying forward LAD funds from one year to the next and adding cumulatively has been used to deprive citizens of tax payer’s money allocated for regular use. We hope the voter will question this practice

The sudden spate of internal road work, multi Gym and park development that is taking place close to elections begs the question. What were the officers in the Govt. departments doing for the whole year? Why were citizens and voters deprived of these facilities throughout the year? How is the coming monsoon going to different for mosquito breeding? How can we ensure Government officers do their job?

At this point, most RWA as well as citizens are left wondering; what are permanently commissioned officers in pensionable jobs doing in their offices?

 

* Source- Praja.org

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URJA Editorial February 2017

Focus on Implementing Policies rather than creating new ones

The Master Plan, MPD 2021 for Delhi projects a population of 23 Million (2.3 Crores) inhabitants by 2021. The World Health organisation(WHO) estimates Delhi having already reached a population of 25 Million. This is more than a 100% increase or more than double the population of Delhi in 1990.

As per 2011 Census of Government. Of India, Delhi Population stood at 17 Million (1.7 Crores) in 2011

The Area of Delhi is static at 1483Sq. Km.

The Population density, one of the highest in the world is at about 12,000 /Sq. Km

With East Delhi reaching 30,000/Sq. Km

These are humungous figures whichever source one chooses to believe and are straining the public services on roads, public land, health services, air and water quality, waste disposal, and education to their current limits. We have been unable to shore up municipal revenue, unable to deal with mismanagement of parking, footpaths, road hawking, encroachment on public land and other such challenges of the urban crisis in Delhi.

The Master plan for Delhi and many other policies made by the authorities such as Transit Oriented Development, Parking Management & Pricing policies created by UTTIPEC exist and it is not for us to quibble with them unnecessarily as these are policies made after much deliberation between experts, political executive and officers and are aligned with international best practices as well.

 However, it is evident that the optimum implementation and delivery of these policies has failed. The government does not have the wherewithal, even if it has the intention, to deliver

There is a lack of seriousness and reticence in implementing policies which are in place. The absence of the Government of Delhi from implementation and enforcement is creating serious problems for the city. Failure of implementation is being read as failure of policy itself

  1. The general belief of an inefficient bureaucracy is getting increasingly solidified
  2. The writ of the ‘State’ is being eroded leading to public indiscipline
  3. A natural disaster in Delhi can have terrifying implications

The problem is serious and ignoring such issues have implications of a ‘tipping point’ phenomenon where unbeknownst to us a series of consequences suddenly manifest at the same time leading to an unmanageable situation. We urge the GNCTD as well as the Central Government. to be mindful of this.

URJA has for long advocated a process driven Structured Consultation Mechanism which includes the Local Elected Representative, The Civic Authorities & The RWA. While it is true that local politicians do separately and privately consult their party workers, and a few RWA, there is no process for a structured consultation mechanism. We also advocate training for citizens as well as school going children in disaster response as well as training & protocol to help accident victims

The word ‘consultation’ need not scare the elected representatives and the government. We are clear that the ‘decision’ must be taken by those statutorily empowered or obliged to. Administrative decisions must be taken, only by the Government.  However, a structured process of communication and conversation is a very important tool in keeping a transparent & official record of community inputs. A well-structured and recordable consultation and participation process allows for a sense of community responsibility and ownership of civic works, and reduces resistance that often stems from an inbuilt suspicion of the officialdom & political class. The recent agitation by the traders of Connaught Place on the Vehicle Free Plan of NDMC could easily have been avoided had the Council followed a proper & transparent consultation.

This is not some newfangled idea. Structured and recordable consultative processes are practiced in Europe and the United States as well as African countries. These models are available and have worked for long. The 74th Constitutional amendment also speaks of them in its letter and spirit. For some reason our Governments have kept Delhi’s citizen away from the benefits and ease of governance that naturally follows from such mechanisms.

URJA hopes that the time and the atmosphere is right for our Lt. Governor and our Chief Minister to take note and act on this.

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URJA Editorial January 2017

We wish you a very happy & prosperous new year.
Many older citizen’s reminiscence with nostalgia the glorious days of the full UT of Delhi. Unfortunately, such memories serve no useful purpose. Delhi is a mixed bag that can either become a fine example of how National Capital territory ought to be Governed or it can slide into become becoming an example of how a city can be destroyed.
We are inclined however, to see the glass as half full. At the level of local neighbourhoods, Resident Welfare Associations(RWA), Market Trader Associations(MTA), Citizens’ collectives and several other community groups start the day with much enthusiasm.

There is something about voluntary groups that has a unique energy.
We observe that political change at the helm of Urban administration in big cities has not had much impact in changing the quality of Governance and most citizens have reluctantly come to accept the fact that the enforcement of the rule of law, effective implementation of policies and rules are somewhat alien to our model of Governance and officials will leave people to their own devices till a crisis erupts. The role of the RWA and community groups therefore becomes paramount in such a situation.
Resident welfare Associations remain the most effective and viable bridge between residents and the political representative/ the bureaucracy. For the last decade URJA and our RWA network has demanded laws to regulate as well as empower the RWA to ensure better delivery of services and redressing grievances.
URJA has connected experts and welfare associations and bought them together to address the disconnect between expert formulations and the reality at the electoral booth level. This has been a very useful experience. Our programmes on connecting premier research organisations and think tanks with RWA and local Politicians across Delhi has helped us understand the fault lines and imagine solutions. Urban Planning, Traffic Management, Air Pollution, water harvesting and recycling, Solar Power and Data analysis are disciplines where we have assisted as well as connected institutions with the RWA and Citizens Collectives.
URJA has been asking for a process of a structured, recordable, and regular consultation mechanism to streamline last mile governance. The Ward Committee comprising of the RWA, MTA, Political representatives and officers is an effective first step that should be taken in this direction. Ward committee in each Municipal ward is a sure shot way of immediate transparency and accountability in local administration. The Political class is wary of such initiatives but we are convinced that this must be done and political parties in Delhi must come around and accept it
The National Capital Territory of Delhi has a new Lt Governor. He comes with a lot of administrative experience and knowledge of Delhi. It is hoped that the New Lt. governor as well as the incumbent Chief Minister will work together to tackle urgent and impending issues. URJA will extend its cooperation wherever needed through our members spread across the 272 Municipal wards in Delhi.
We urge the residents of Delhi to involve themselves more proactively in the health of their neighbourhood. If you have a complaint with civic services immediately complain in writing to the concerned department. This is very important. Do involve yourself with your RWA and other social groups to help tackle problems of parking inside colonies, step out and chat with your neighbour, prevent burning of waste and push for segregating and composting, Help and support the young with sports and free play in neighbourhood parks, support community solar power projects and refrain from patronizing illegal commercial enterprises.
For those who want to extend themselves for their neighbourhood there is never a dull moment.
May 2017 bring you Joy.

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RWA should be cautious on the Manifestos of Political Parties for MCD 2017

RWA should be cautious on the Manifestos of Political Parties for MCD 2017

Once again Political parties are out with their manifesto and each section of society offered one thing on the other is examining them with mixed hope and cynicism. Some of these promises simply would not be actioned off as there are no laws to support them.

RWA have on various occasions demanded more accountability from the Officers of the Corporation as well as an increased share of RWA participation in local area decision making. Equally every manifesto before elections, makes it a point to placate the RWA in some way through adding one or two points directed to them.

Let us have a look at some of the points raised by the Major parties(in alphabetical order)

The AAP manifesto promises that payments to contractors will be made after verification by RWA. Such promises have been made before

The AAP says it will consult and take approval of RWA regularly on how councillor funds are to be spent. However, AAP has not done the same with their MLAs. Broadly most elected representatives seek public opinion quietly on what most people want. Seeking popularity is for them the natural thing to do. Getting approval is however, a clever usage of words. Further, This contention would be believable and made sense had they been doing the same with their own MLAs. The other contention that payment would be made after approval of RWA may sound exciting but is unlikely to pass muster. A move like this requires statutory backing, the absence of which will make it a nonstarter.

The BJP has said that monthly meetings with Municipal councillors, Officials & RWA will be held. Beyond that the manifesto offers little and the Councillors meet with RWA regularly Anyway. The BJP had set up ward committees in the erstwhile undivided MCD much to the chagrin of their own Councillors. Subsequently all they have made, is empty promises on RWA participation. Were they to restart the Resident ward committee(RWC) it would be worth congratulating, but from all accounts the centralized nature of BJP’s Governance model seems to militate against this expectation.

The INC has a more detailed Manifesto as compared to other parties. They promise a return of Bhagidari and empowerment of RWA in collecting revenue from parking. While the original Bhagidari was propelled through the then CMs office, this would be a reduced initiative in comparison given the limits imposed on the Municipal corporation.

The Car parking initiative can be path breaking of course, and can be possible through PPP schemes or revenue sharing.

No manifesto mentions anything of the accountability of the officers in the MCD nor does it mention any compensation to the tax payer on deficiency of civic services.

It would not be out of place to mention that URJA has written twice to the Election commission of India on the issue of Political Party Candidate being held to account for promises made in their manifesto and the Hon’ble Supreme court to has made observations on the same.

All said, URJA suggests, that the RWA and their different federations proceed with caution on taking the self-congratulatory path early in the day

That said, URJA will make it a point, to pursue with, whichever party wins, on the promises made to the people of Delhi.

 

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Walking in the Park is not just that simple

The colony park is a very important place. Large parks have a walking track and I go there for a walk in the evening. Sometimes I am accosted by Seniors who love arguments and politics. That is the easy part.

Sometimes one gets tangled with things more difficult than politics.

Here is a sampler. Accents have been neutralized.

Names have been changed, to save my own skin.

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  1. I am walking one evening and Mrs. Chakraborty stops me as a I overtake her after carefully juggling from left to right…..

Me: ‘Good Evening Mam’

Mrs. Chakraborty: ‘Nomoskaar, how is your mother?’

She stops. I stop too.

Me: ‘She is fine mam’

MC: ‘why is she not coming out to walk, is she ok?’

Me: ‘Yes mam, thank you she is Ok, she has been busy’

MC: ‘I asked you about her last time also, did you tell her ?’

Me: ‘No Mam’, I responded, somewhat tentatively, my robustness turning into a cringe. ‘You asked me how she was and I said she was fine.’

By now I am getting the sense that I have done something wrong….

MC: ‘But you should have told her I was asking’

Me: Looking apologetic; ‘Mam, you didn’t say you wanted me to convey anything….’

MC: ‘Of course you should convey that I was asking about her’.  ‘I was hoping you had told her. Very bad this is’.

Me: ‘Sorry mam, will do definitely, ….promise,… as soon as I get home’

So I trailed off and continued on my round. However, I had clearly lost Mrs. Chakraboty’s trust, So when I entered our house, My Mother asked me. ‘Ladies have been asking after me?’.

It is difficult for me to explain that tone. My Mother can say many things in one sentence. It can play out any which way. One has to exercise extreme caution in responding.

Me: Oh ! so Mrs. Chakraborty called you

Mother: ‘of course,’ -With that ‘you think I can depend on you’ look;

Me: Exasperated….But it was not ladies maaaaa…, only Mrs. Chakraborty. That is one lady

Mother: That means several ladies my boy, and you haven’t told me. What sort of public dealing do you do …

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2. This exchange is from around Pooja time

Mr. Sharma, very interesting person. Mercurial, and can shift stands readily. He is also highly adversarial and a very tough one to handle at 70+. Usually he accosts me, this time I had caught up with him to get even.

Me: Sir, I do not understand every year you people make big moorti and pratima of Durga and Ganesh, then you pray to them with such fanfare, then you go dancing to the river on a truck and throw them into the water…Just like that… I don’t understand

Mr. Sharma: ‘Not throw, it is called Visarjan’..

Me: Ya Ya, same thing

MS: It is not same thing’

Me: ‘Why,? you are throwing into river, just giving it a Sanskrit name does not make it any different.’

MS: Dikshit I can’t believe you are saying this, you have no knowledge of why all this is done!!??!!. What sort of a Brahmin are you?

Me: ‘Why?’ I said, clearly intending to provoke him  ‘What is this knowledge? Knowledge knowledge lagaa rakha hai

MS: Arre Kamaal hai, ‘you are childish’, he said, raising his volume ‘Our Rishis were wise. They devised these plans symbolically to explain the passing away and renewal of all things’. or something to that effect.. ‘They made these rituals so that the simple uneducated could understand. Also, they wanted illiterate masses to remember God through these regular rituals’

Me: But we are not simple and uneducated or illiterate masses. So why are we doing this every year in some unthinking haze?

MS: Looking at me most suspiciously ‘Dikshit are you a leftist?’

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Too early to Talk

Too early to talk

Every now and then an article appears by columnists on describing the ongoing conflict between left and right in the social sector as well as in universities and other democratic institutions

Some articles are a passionate expression of feelings with an advice for a sane dialogue between different ideologies and beliefs.

The writers seem to have little direct knowledge of how vicious battles are fought between power hungry contenders & to negotiate between such clashing sides. All they are doing is using these events to vent their ‘feelings’.

A colder& less emotionally involved look is therefore important:

The events we are witnessing are not a battle for freedom of expression & tolerance.

The ongoing conflict is a battle for controlling the structures of power. On one side are people, inside forts, determined to retain their hold, and on the outside, are those who want to wrest control. Expecting a discussion is naive This is a fight between two factions, fueled by greed for power, money, and the trappings it brings. It is not a battle of ideas . Ideas are only being employed as weapons.

Political party cadre traditionally have had access to the spoils of war. Which is why it is the cadre which is at the forefront of all such battles. There are those, who are less obvious in their politics,  but are closely networked and plugged in to the power hierarchy. They too will fight albeit surreptitiously.

‘The idea of India’ is not at stake. At stake is; control over the Bureaucracy, Police,Military, Institutions of learning, Corporate houses, State &International Funding etc, through which money, influence, power, and pleasures are acquired.

This conflict will get more bloody minded, down and dirty and ‘anything goes’ will be employed righteously by both sides. 

At this point of time, lectures on being ‘nice and talk it out’ will not help. This battle will rage for some time. It is only after some of the spoils are re-distributed, will the two sides begin to see any sense in having a conversation. That’s not happening anytime soon.

To those who are in politics and are a part of the political cadre, just go for it! There are returns.

But those who are not, don’t froth too much and don’t mess up your heads over this battle. Most of all, don’t become cannon fodder.

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The Political gamble of demonitisation

I really do not know for sure, how much or in what way, demonetization will affect the economy or black money in the long run. But I do think that The Government of India will not back off from this move. On the contrary it will get even more aggressive on it and other such steps. It will just tweak some operational stuff to ease short term pain.

The National English TV media is not a very good indicator. Political parties, in poll bound states, are careful about how they attack the Government’s move. It is the political units with no stake in the forthcoming elections that are making the most noise. The congress in Punjab has avoided this issue and deftly continued its focus on SYL.

I suspect that the virulence of the opposition attack can also be seen as proportional to their discomfort with the political advantage the BJP can garner from this move. AAP will be particularly negatively affected as its vote bank is not caste or religion based and this move of the Centre may appeal to poorer sections of society that are angry at being left out of the benefits of economic growth. Worse, AAP woke up somewhat after congress workers started assisting people in long queues with water and tea etc.  Maken was quicker than Kejriwal in seeing that ‘on street’ advantage. There are murmurs that the poorer residents of the city are ‘not that angry’.

In a few days the people will forget the discomfort that they are currently going through and will remember this as a decisive move by Narendra Modi, against black money held by the rich. It is a big bold gamble NaMo has taken but a lot will depend on the BJP’s state units in the coming elections.

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Union of India Vs Aedes Aegypti & Ors

Today’s newspapers carried pictures of friendly politicians beaming into cameras with their colleagues from opposition parties. Jointly they will fight the scourge they claimed. Sorry to burst your bubble friends, but all politicians jointly trying to fight the armies of Aedes mosquito is akin to a group of sulking colleagues holding hands and shouting slogans in front of a battle tank.

For almost a decade the Government of NCT of Delhi has tried to contain this menace but failed. For almost the same time the politicians have promised that they will do all they can and promised to do it. They too have failed.

It can be believed, given the benefit of doubt, that the Delhi Administration is genuinely interested in fixing this problem. It can also be confirmed that they will fail. They do not have the army required to fight this menace

The Garbage situation in the city though unconnected with the Aedes mosquito is in a similar phase. The Government does not have the wherewithal, expertise or the gumption to fix it. At best the three Municipalities can pull out a global tender and ask a big concessionaire to carry away the waste. That too will fail. Despite it being the Prime Minister’s initiative, despite the Municipal solid Waste rules being notified, despite everybody paying lip service to swachhta and despite the big ads not a single municipal ward out of the total 272 in Delhi has been able to segregate and compost its waste. Big talk, zilch delivery

It is no longer a question of the Government’s intent or of that inexplicable expression ‘political will’ it simply means that the Government and the Political leadership are incapable of dealing with these crises even if they want to. They just don’t know how to.

The problems are so widespread that they require an unprecedented and extensive mobilization of local communities, school children, teachers, doctors and NGOs at the ‘every colony and block’ level to achieve any significant result.

The RWAs of Delhi, which form the key elements of last mile governance, have repeatedly asked the Government and Municipal corporations to deal directly with the RWA at the ground level with support to mobilize volunteers, local activists, experts & doctors at the local community level. All requests have fallen on deaf ears. The Bureaucracy hides behind ‘busy in meeting ’and ‘gate passes’ kind of distancing and the politician just does not know what to do. All he is certain of is; that no empowerment should happen further down the food chain.

The residents are miffed that all sorts of taxes and cess are collected from them, all sorts of central funds are allocated but not a single penny seems to be coming down to the last mile for fixing health and sanitation challenges of the most basic kind

The Government, at the centre and state (regardless of political party) will have to work with the RWA of Delhi to even begin to make a dent. Without the RWA the Government does not stand a chance. Not at least with waste and mosquitoes.

15th Sept 2016

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ज़रुरत में गधे को बाप बनाना

“zaroorat mein gadhe ko baap banana”( ज़रुरत में गधे को बाप बनाना)

This is a peculiar Indian Idiom. I have researched much but not found a similar saying in other parts of the world. I have come across literature where ‘making a donkey out of your father’ is practiced by some rascals , but ‘Making a donkey your father’ is like taking it to another level altogether, and is nowhere to be found except in India

I have been reflecting much upon this. I have been thinking, if this is what we have been doing for very long in the past, that has gotten us where we are. I mean the total collapse of urban infrastructure, traffic,health services and the environment. And this is not about politicians so nobody need get all pompous, petulant and upset. I am like talking generally about society.

Now giving Maan Sammaan (मान सम्मान) is a part of our culture, we touch feet, we supplicate, we venerate and we do chamchagiri(चमचागिरी), but I suspect that the long term effect of several people doing all this, by making Several Donkeys their Fathers, is now taking its toll.

We need a new strategy (or would it be a new narrative?) where donkeys are required to be positioned differently in our lives.

 

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