Last week, residents of a certain ward asked their councillor to visit their neighbourhood, to solve a pressing civic problem.

The councillor arrived on time. After listening to the grievances of residents, the councillor phoned the junior engineer (JE) for a technical assessment. “The JE will come soon. We will solve the problem,” the councillor assured the residents. What then ensued was a long wait for the JE. Past noon, as it became hotter, residents began losing patience, and many left.

It’s a common phenomenon these days — civic body officials invariably seem very busy. One reason given for this is that due to a large number of vacancies, many JEs are in charge not just of their wards, but neighbouring ones as well. The JEs say it is difficult to cope with the pressure of constantly-developing civic problems. Officials say there are around such 100 vacancies.

A few months ago, the Corporation Council discussed the need to fill over 6,000 vacancies for the city. Almost a year after the new local government took charge, officials say steps to do this, are yet to be taken. Preparatory work is underway. But the outcome of finally filling the vacancies is likely to take a few more months, possibly stretching into next year. This means that any emergency pertaining to the northeast monsoon will have to be tackled with the gaping vacancies in place.

A few days ago, some councillors were seen requesting a senior official of the Corporation to ensure their ward got a JE. They pointed to their inability to redress grievances of the people who elected them because of the vacancies. Some of the councillors, particularly in added zones, even point to the slow pace of work because of the “delay in fixing responsibility and role of officials” as there is a large number of unfilled posts. In the absence of a JE in a ward, contractors are allegedly reluctant to complete any maintenance or repair works.

The officials in turn complain that they are not able to concentrate on any civic work. Posts ranging from superintending engineer to junior engineer continue to remain vacant thanks to factors ranging from red tape to crude political considerations.

There is an urgent need to fill vacancies and create a motivated team of officials who can cope with the upcoming monsoon. A full-fledged team of officials in Ripon Buildings is the only way to make 2013 worth remembering as the hundredth year of the heritage structure.

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