Amid the blame game and confrontation between the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led municipal corporations, the indefinite strike of the civic body employees entered its tenth day on Friday. Despite the Delhi High Court’s intervention and a stern warning by commissioners of North and East MCDs to employees to call off the strike and resume duties with “immediate effect or face action”, the striking doctors, paramedical staff, engineers, teachers and sanitation workers are not ready to bow down. They are demanding a “permanent solution” to their salary problem.
Firstpost spoke to former Delhi Chief Secretary Shailaja Chandra and sought to know from her the origin of the present crisis. She said every year the commissioners of the corporation – during her time it was a single entity – would plead for a grant or a soft loan to clear the salaries of the employees, citing reasons why the corporation had run short of funds. Invariably, the lament from the corporation even then was that the finance and urban development departments had not taken important factors into account and omitted making provisions for supporting MCD.
“It was a regular feature and had happened during my tenure as chief secretary as well. But it used to be resolved with some give and take on both sides. The effort being to harmonise the points of view of the finance department and the municipal corporation. Politics never came into the picture. If the impasse continued, the discussions were raised at the level of the chief minister and there would invariably get resolved.
“In no case did the differences reach the media and certainly not the streets by allowing mounds of garbage to accumulate everywhere. The bottom line was very simple: a solution had to be found and citizens should not be harassed, come what may. It was an unwritten understanding and the political executive and officers from the government and the MCD understood this,” she said.
“This dispute is an annual feature and is something that can be resolved. If there are anomalies caused by trifurcation, these have to be addressed and solutions found. The answer does not lie in blaming each other and stopping salaries,” she said.
Asked how the issues used to be resolved earlier, she explained, “There was always disagreement. Either the finance secretary or the chief secretary would take a call. Or if that did not work, the corporation commissioner would raise the level by meeting the chief minister (CM) or the lieutenant governor (LG) and seek their intervention because the matter was not receiving due attention at the official level. Despite the NCT government and the central government being from different and opposing political parties, the CM or the LG always used to give a hearing and take an administrative decision.”
Why is the same not happening now?
Because unfortunately, according to the former bureaucrat, it has become a subject for political grandstanding in full public view. Also worrying is the fact that officers do not seem to be exerting themselves perhaps because their advice is not heeded. “Officers find solutions when they are asked to do it. But if they are told to stay away, why will they give any suggestion and how will anything ever get done? After all, you may have any number of advisers but if you don’t rely on precedents and the institutional memory available confusion will take over,” she added.
Moreover no one, said Chandra, is exerting themselves to raise revenue. “If some drastic improvement is promised through taxation, public will go along but first they must see a tangible benefit which will come in a time-bound manner. If such an approach is adopted, the government may also not mind doing some temporary hand-holding. But one does not find that vision in the corporations,” she said.
The former chief secretary is not convinced that funds of the order claimed have been denied by the Delhi government “because from the figures put out in the press, which have not been contradicted by anybody, it is apparent that the government has been incrementally raising the amount of money given every year. And in no way has it gone down this year”.
It means, according to Chandra, the corporations – particularly the North and the East – have failed to raise property taxes, which is very irresponsible.
When the unit area method of tax calculation was introduced, the understanding was that a Municipal Valuation Committee would be set up every two years which would recommend raising house tax proportionately. There are A to F category colonies and the number of dwelling units is known.
“In such a legislation, one can tax the colonies having more facilities at a higher rate and reduce it as one moves downwards to less affluent areas. But you cannot maintain status quo for more than 12 years, which is what they have done from 2003 (when the Act came into effect). Definitely if the scope of revenue collection is skewed in favour of South MCD (which is considered rich), it has to be set right through discussion and if that fails through legislation. But first the anomalies and the reasons for it have to be pinpointed leaving no room for claims and counter-claims as is happening now,” she said.
Of course, she said, South MCD is the newer part of the city with large organised residential colonies, expensive properties. But always saying that they are rich and we are poor is not a “tenable argument” because it is just a statement.
“Nobody so far has actually given the exact number of properties within the tax net in all the three corporations and the numbers that have been ignored either because of apathy or connivance. For any financial decision, one must have a figure on the number of dwelling units falling in categories A to H and how many dwellers are actually paying you taxes. Whole of the Walled City in North Delhi is also very congested and raising taxes there may not be easy or practical,” she said.
“Another argument is that East DMC has less income because it has too many unauthorised colonies but what proportion of their populace resides in these colonies? Are the regularised ones paying taxes? East DMC must declare the number of the taxable properties lying in its jurisdiction which are not being taxed. If they are in so much in the red, they should think of innovative measures to raise money,” she said and suggested few measures:
Why are people being permitted to park their vehicles on the roads at night? All the three civic bodies can independently or collectively frame policies to charge people heavily for using public space for private use. The same goes for cars and sentry boxes parked on pavements. As for those who display merchandise on the market pavements, they should be liable to be fined heavily or rent taken if they are being permitted to display or sell goods from public spaces.
It needs regulation and enforcement – but neither is being done. In all markets in the city, the pavements have completely been encroached upon. The fine is too low. Why? What steps are the Delhi government and the MCDs taking to increase income?
“I think that there may be a little truth in the fact that when it was a unified MCD, it was easier to take money from one pocket and put it into another and have some sort of equity. But it cannot become a lifetime excuse,” she added.
Asked why the Fourth Finance Commission, as demanded by the BJP, was not implemented and how legal is the Delhi government’s response that it would accept it only if the panel’s recommendation for handing over the DDA is accepted by the Centre, she replied “The recommendations of the Finance Commission could have been considered and implemented during President’s rule but perhaps being a complex and contentious matter, it was left for an elected government to take a view.”
She added: “When the government took over, it took the approach that the Finance Commission’s recommendations should be implemented fully. Along with the devolution of a percentage of the Delhi government’s resources on the MCDs, it has been stated by AAP spokesmen on TV channels that there were recommendations relating to handing over DDA to the Delhi government. But so far, no one has belled the cat. On a broader plane, if the report has indeed made recommendations relating to the DDA (I have not read the report ) but if it is correct, it is totally outside the purview of the Finance Commission. DDA deals with land, which is not constitutionally under the Delhi government. So, in a way, the AAP government is asking for a constitutional amendment while highlighting the narrow recommendation relating to the DDA. Therefore, it is not implementable and the whole matter has remained up in the clouds.”
Speaking from Bengaluru, where he is undergoing naturopathy treatment, Chief Minister Kejriwal on Wednesday announced a bailout package of Rs 693 crore in a bid to woo the agitating workers of the municipal corporations. He also said, “You cannot tell us to give the money and not give us DDA which is our due and integral to the Finance Commission’s recommendation.”
एमसीडी कर्मचारियों की हड़ताल जब 8वें दिन पंहुची, तब जाकर दिल्ली के मुख्यमंत्री अरविंद केजरीवाल और उप-राज्यपाल हरकत में आए। केजरीवाल ने बेंगलुरु से ही कॉन्फ्रेंस की और एमसीडी में भ्रष्टाचार और तनख्वाह के पैसों की हेराफेरी का आरोप लगाया है। बहरहाल दिल्ली सरकार ने हल निकालने का दावा करते हुए 693 करोड़ रुपये का इंतजान कर दिया है।
Guests: Shailaja Chandra (Former Bureaucrat) ; Alka Lamba (APP) ; Ravindra Gupta (Mayor, NDMC BJP); and Nidhi Kulpati, Anchor .
As the Delhi Municipal Corporation employees’ strike entered its 8th day, thousands of sanitation workers protested on the capital’s roads, dumped garbage and choked roads. They allege they haven’t been paid their salaries for over 2 month. 16,000 teachers, 7,000 doctors of civic body-run organisations also joined the strike as schools and hospitals ceased to function. The Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has accused the BJP of instigating the strike and alleged massive corruption in BJP-led civic bodies. He also said he would loan Rs. 550 crores to agencies so they could pay what they owe the workers.
In the wake of strike called by the MCD workers including doctors over nonpayment of their salaries, Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain on Sunday held an emergency meeting at his residence to deal with the crises.
The minister discussed arrangements which were made to clean the city after the strike called by the municipal workers’ entered fifty day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking at the recent International Conference on the Frontiers of Yoga, held near Bengaluru, where he uttered words no one, certainly no PM, has had the courage to speak from a public platform. “We must also apply the techniques and methods of modern science, to test and validate results, assure quality and explain benefits,” Modi said before a community of traditional medicine experts and practitioners who had come expecting to hear hosannas in their praise.
He was right. To be a believer and a proponent of traditional medicine is one thing and to get the world to believe in traditional healing is another. In the absence of any tools of measurement, medical claims require proof of safety and effectiveness of outcomes judged by the same standards of research methodology and analysis as set out for modern medicine.
Ayurveda and two other traditional medical systems — Unani and Siddha — have been an undisputed part of India’s approach to medical pluralism for centuries. These systems have been recognised for the grant of medical degrees from 1970 and their medicines have been licensed under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940. Taken together with the drugless therapies of yoga and naturopathy this group totals more than the entire allopathic fraternity presenting a powerful political constituency with direct influence on the community they serve. In 1993, the then PM PV Narsimha Rao, announced the setting up of a new ministry for ayurveda. After encountering bureaucratic resistance he agreed instead to carve out a separate department within the health ministry.
But the new department was not taken seriously by the ministry or its flagship institutions. In 2014, the department was re-christened, as the independent ministry of AYUSH but so far little has changed for the consumer.
And one morning Modi put his finger on the main reason for not gaining primacy, something that traditional medicine proponents have refused to confront for decades: The need to be judged by biomedical standards the world accepts.
Having said it the PM must do more: First, he should direct the CSIR, S&T, DRDO, ICMR and AYUSH to pool funds to promote high-quality clinical research on just 10 therapeutic procedures and formulations that are recognised to have the highest potential for success.
Second, he should direct the health ministry to put signages in clinics and government hospitals seeking volunteers for identified research projects where all costs would be borne by government.
Third, he should dispel the confusion around the prescription of ayurvedic drugs by modern medicine doctors. When all herbal medicines are sold over the counter, why haul up allopathic doctors for prescribing even garlic capsules?
India is sitting on a gold mine of knowledge and experience. Instead of using it to benefit humanity, traditional medicine educationists and practitioners are waiting for their day of recognition. The only way that can happen is if they validate knowledge using the tools of modern scientific research.
Battling pollution: Turning Delhi into breathable city demands holistic and sustainable approach
The decision of the Delhi government to introduce temporarily the odd-even scheme for vehicles has received both bouquets and brickbats. No one will question the government when it comes to the need to reduce the national capital’s unbearable levels of air pollution but should introducing curbs on the way people travel be the way to do it? It is high time the administration explored other options such as reducing industrial pollution, construction activity, burning of wood etc and not cause inconvenience.
It was only when Delhi’s pollution levels became a public health emergency that the Delhi government announced that a 15 day experiment with the odd-even formula was to start from 2016 New Year’s Day. Every day after it was announced, those against the motion far out-voiced those in favour. It was seen as a flippant brain child of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government just looking for diversion from its reported failure to govern.
Though environment experts kept pleading “to give anything that might work a try,” their voices were drowned in the daily cacophony against the move. Everyone waited to see chaos on Delhi’s roads and an irate public baying for the government’s blood. But unexpectedly on New Year’s Day, there were far fewer vehicles on the road, parking was miraculously available at even the most sought-after shopping centres and the public seemed to be co-operating beyond belief. Cynics attributed this to slowness on the first day of the New Year and were quick to advice, “Wait for the weekend to be over and see what happens on Monday.” But surprisingly, the week passed uneventfully, with the number of supporters overtaking detractors.
Congestion on the roads had halved and sale of petrol and diesel reduced by 40 per cent. So how did Delhi achieve the impossible? Several things went in its favour. The Centre for Science and Environment and amicus curie Harish Salve had already pulled out hard data to show the apex court how people were living in a virtual gas chamber. It all boiled down to profligate and dangerous policies favouring diesel run cars and allowing trucks running on outdated technology entering Delhi to skirt toll booths.
Though besieged by a battery of lawyers representing vehicle manufacturers, the high court and Supreme Court granted no stay and their judges even volunteered to carpool in personal solidarity with the move. The Ministry of Home Affairs, under whom the Delhi police operates, and the Ministry of Environment which lays down emission norms and monitors air quality did not queer the pitch. The clear message to the police was to manage things, which indeed they did, with exemplary professionalism.
By far the most important reason for success was the realisation by the citizenry that irreversible dangers loomed ahead particularly for those with fragile lungs. With every third child showing signs of respiratory distress and the daily Air Quality Index (AQI) displaying severe pollution levels, it needed no further evidence to convince people. They were ready and willing to try anything that might help.
In addition to deploying the full fleet of over 4,500 Delhi Transport buses, another 1,250 private buses were brought in as reinforcements. Closure of schools met with no public criticism and enabled school buses to supplement the bus pool. More space meant no harrowing tales of overcrowding and misbehaviour, a welcome first for Delhi.
The Metro, which generally carries around 20 lakh commuters, saw a 12 per cent jump in footfall and coped magnificently by adding to frequency and coaches. Quite unexpectedly, the use of mobile apps for carpooling saw a 70 per cent surge. Even government employees ferried to office in individual staff cars joined the effort. Even women who had been exempted volunteered.
The AAP government enthused thousands of volunteers to get involved. On New Year’s Eve, 10,000 AAP volunteers were summoned to a sports stadium to hear Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the presence of the traffic and transport authorities. Over 5,000 civil defence volunteers and NCC cadets were also placed at the disposal of the police.
As news of success began to permeate the city, there was a burst of citizen-pride and even greater joy when drivers fudging number plates and feigning illness were caught and fined, an unprecedented Rs 2,000.
Can the strategy work in other cities in India? Other cities are not living on the edge of a pollution precipice in the same way as Delhi is and public enthusiasm may be tepid. Finding thousands of volunteers may not be easy, this was available in plenty in Delhi. Public reaction, too, is unpredictable. In 2003, too, Delhi had made international news when the entire public transport was switched to CNG. That effort, too, was spurred by high pollution levels. Yet in less than five years, the rapid transport bus system called BRT which has met with relative success in cities like Ahmedabad and Pune became a stillborn child in Delhi. Car owners and the AAP government ensured its pre-term abortion without considering the positive impact on pollution.
The Metro which started in 2003 has provided a clean alternative but neither the Metro nor the Ring Railway, which runs parallel to Delhi’s ring-road and touches some 20 vantage points connecting NCR townships, have developed an integrated system to carry commuters seamlessly across public transport options. Neither offers last mile options. The ordeal of haggling with ill-mannered auto drivers is enough to deter most commuters from even trying the rail option.
The government’s policy towards pollution has also been short-sighted and lethargic. The eastern and western peripheral highways which were expected to prevent unnecessary heavy vehicular traffic crowding Delhi received scant attention from the Central government and the partner states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for over 12 years. Delhi bore the brunt until the Central government finally stepped in last Diwali. But years of avoidable pollution has been the price.
Over the last 10 years, successive governments both at the Centre and in Delhi gave free rein to registration of more cars while refusing to confront the logic of allowing diesel run high cc vehicles to swell pollution in Delhi. Well-knowing that the Bharat III and IV emission levels were two generations behind world standards and the quality of fuel was nowhere near what it should be to support the low speeds of city commutes, the authorities refused to even consider options like a congestion tax or making registration of more cars prohibitive.
The car population increased by 50 per cent over the last 8 years and reduced the average vehicular speed to just 7 kmph. Once more and more fancy cars became available, flaunting an expensive vehicle (albeit run on diesel) established one’s exclusiveness and social status, at the cost of Delhi’s air.
One hesitates to give unequivocal endorsement to the odd-even strategy because seen in context it is like the relief an asthmatic gets from a quick puff from an inhaler. Certainly it has started a dialogue about the paramount need for investment in public transport and brought the subject of cleaner fuel and emission norms into prominence, but the future depends on the weight of a much awaited judicial fiat and the seriousness of the governments to take charge.
(The writer was Chief Secretary, Delhi Government and Secretary, Health Ministry, Government of India)
5 January 2016
Delhi is among the world’s top ten most populous cities with 18 million people. United Nations projections for 2025 predict that it will rank third, overtaking Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Dhaka, New York and Shanghai. Colossal challenges confront the city’s development, and finding money is the least of those problems. Delhi garners more resources than any other city in India, has the highest per capita income and wages, and boasts more private vehicles than the three metropolitans of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. In early 2015, the new city government slashed the power tariff in half and provided 20 000 litres of free water for all residents — clearly affordable measures.
Visitors are initially struck by Delhi’s pristine enclaves that house the President’s estate, foreign missions, government complexes and sprawling colonial bungalows set along avenues of shady trees and landscaped foliage. The residents of these exclusive enclaves account for less than 2% of Delhi’s population, while a cash-rich, non-elected municipal body maintains their wide, radial roads and lush greenery to perfection.
In the rest of Delhi, seven different kinds of vehicles — BMWs to hawkers’ carts — maintain an average speed of 7 kilometres per hour despite the construction of 50 flyovers and underpasses. Hundreds of planned colonies — ranging from the ultra-posh where residents live behind formidable iron gates with private security guards to middling housing communities — are managed by three elected municipal corporations that show erratic degrees of attentiveness to their obligatory functions. The two massive townships of Dwarka and Rohini, for example,each independently house around a million middle-class residents.
For the politician, these “organised” colonies taken collectively are unpredictable as voters. Instead, three unorganised clusters living in close proximity to one another possess the power to swing votes. That’s why seven members of Parliament, 70 members of Delhi’s legislative assembly and 272 municipal councillors – all elected representatives – rivet their attention on the other half of Delhi’s population. Bettering their lives has little to do with advancing clean air, reliable drinking water, drainage or sewerage — though scores of plans exist on paper. Rather, it has more to do with indulging existing and future voters.
Three disadvantaged citizens’ groups are important to political parties. These include some 500 slums and their successor resettlement colonies, over 1 000 unauthorised colonies and 135 urban villages. Compared to neighbouring planned colonies, the inequality in living standards is stark.
The first group comprises some 3 million slum dwellers — politically the most important. They are families of original or new migrants who squatted on publicly owned land, driven by poverty and lack of jobs in rural villages. Political parties have united in making sure they received immunity from removal, drinking water, a modicum of sewage, food subsidies and an election voting card. Come election time, the handing out of special incentives — including liquor and cash — is well-known, often seeing these citizens vote as a block. Once elected, all city governments announce populist policies as a reward. For example, the newly elected city government put a moratorium on demolitions, prompting dangerous construction in already congested spaces. Extreme squalor and regular breakdowns of public order are accepted as a way of life. Drunkenness, knife-wielding and assaults are daily occurrences.
Every political party has promised to build alternative accommodations for the slum dwellers or undertake in situ development. The communities are shrewd enough to realise that neither will happen, but with each passing year their adverse possession of tenure security grows. It is an astute investment despite living in sub-human conditions. Happily, the insatiable demands of the planned colonies next door for domestic and office staff as well as support services guarantee employment.
The second group consists of over 1 000 unauthorised colonies. They are disproportionately important to political parties. Years ago, the occupants bought agricultural land privately and cheaply, an illegal transaction since converting or subdividing agricultural land required a plethora of approvals that were never obtained. Without sale deeds or building plans, tens of thousands of shoddy structures burgeoned city-wide, mostly with weak foundations, deficient sewerage systems and insubstantial basic amenities. Initially, the municipal system shunned them, but with every election more and more colonies got “regularised”. The High Court of Delhi described this arrangement as robbing Peter (the honest taxpayer) to pay Paul (the dishonest coloniser), but regularisation has officially become a flagship programme even backed by a statute. Each time elections draw near, many more such ghettos spring up and are promised, and eventually granted regularisation. More than the promise of services, it is the protection from rent-seeking that matters. Living standards remain, however, sub-standard.
The third large group comprises 135 urban villages. Dotted all over Delhi and interspersed among planned residential and commercial complexes, these overcrowded villages pose health and fire hazards. Their precariously built structures stand amidst jungles of electric wires, gas fires, shanty eateries and garbage. Ironically, the elected Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which is the custodian of public health and safety, exempted all urban villages from paying property tax or following any building regulations.
Given these present realities, the future of Delhi’s urban development appears doomed. Unless political parties mature beyond appeasement, citizens start valuing quality of life and migrants seek employment in smaller cities and towns, Delhi’s frenzied expansion is unlikely to change.