Citizens’ movements and court orders seem to be the only ways to get the indifferent civic agencies to perform their duties

On June 23, I had written about the sorry state of the Neela Hauz, located near the reserved forest abutting Kishangarh and Jawaharlal Nehru University. I had expressed the fear that the lake might disappear just as so many other water bodies have done in this city, because there aren’t too many people that seem to care.

I was pleasantly surprised when the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Forum drew my attention to their website and to the fact that they have been actively involved in taking the case of the hauz to the Delhi High Court and under the directions of the Court, the Public Works Department, the Delhi Development Authority and the Citizen’s Forum, jointly monitor the cleaning and restoration of the hauz. The forum members informed me that removal of water hyacinth and cleaning of the hauz would commence by the end of June.

I wrote about all this in my column on June 30, but to tell you the truth, I was not sure that it would actually happen. Till the 30 there were no sign of any movement on the lake and I was prepared to write the cenotaph of the hauz. I am glad that I did not; over the last week, operation clean-up has been launched as can be seen through the two photographs, the first taken on July 7 and the second on July 11.

Apart from proving me wrong, this development has also established that “civic pressure works”. We, however, need to remember that this pressure has to be sustained. If the Citizen’s Group had not gone back to the High Court to draw its attention to the non-compliance of its earlier orders, this monitoring mechanism would not have come into existence. The fact that the group has been monitoring the progress diligently is something that gives one the hope that the perseverance of civic groups and concerned citizens can retrieve things.

Having said this, one still needs to ask the question, why is it that civic agencies charged with specific duties do not perform them? Take the issue of de-silting of the storm water drains in the city. Every year, the civic authorities get five months of almost no-rain-period, between February and June, to de-silt the drains and all the tributary streams of the Yamuna (reduced to the status of open drains in the kind of planning that we have given to this city) and yet they do nothing and begin to bestir themselves when the monsoons hit the city. Year after year, citizens have to take recourse to public interest litigations and the Delhi High Court wastes its time in calling the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to court and asking them to explain why they have not performed their duties. It is the same story this year as well. The High Court has ordered the two bodies to de-silt the drains and to file a status report within 15 days.

While on de-silting, one would also like to know the logic behind this asinine division of labour that seems to run uniformly among the staff of the two civic bodies and also among PWD staff. One set of people are responsible for de-silting the drains — they pile-up the stuff on the roads and disappear. Another set of people are supposed to remove the silt, but they never arrive. The stinking pile of silt remains on the roads for weeks. If it does not rain for a week, the silt dries up and vehicles ensure that all this trash and dried mud is equitably distributed throughout the city. In case rains arrive, all the muck is washed back into the drains. And so whether it rains or it remains dry, the silt piled up on the roads does not have to be removed, it removes itself.

No one really cares because till today nobody has been punished — neither the bureaucrats nor the elected representatives seem to bother. It is the same story everywhere in the city, whether it is the border area of Loni or the busy Mehrauli Gurgaon road.

If we want to save our city and make it truly livable for all its citizens, the only way, it would appear, is to build civic pressure and to sustain it. If the Neela Hauz Citizen’s Forum succeeds and they seem to be making progress, this might set an example that others would do well to follow.