Unified MCD set to make a comeback amid ‘demolition politics’

The demolition drives, which started at Jahangirpuri in north-west Delhi, will continue “as per schedule” under the newly constituted civic entity too, said officials. File

The demolition drives, which started at Jahangirpuri in north-west Delhi, will continue “as per schedule” under the newly constituted civic entity too, said officials. File

After two months of frenetic activity, the administrative dust has finally settled with the Capital’s three civic bodies — North, South and East — passing on the governance baton to a unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).

Along with the responsibilities of the three corporations, the unified MCD — now directly under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) — will also inherit financial liabilities running into thousands of crores, a reputation marred by allegations of corruption and a legacy of being the harbinger of “demolition politics” in Delhi.

The bulldozers, which have become the face of the “routine drives against encroachments” in the Capital — following a clash between two communities in Jahangirpuri last month — remain at the core of the political discourse in the city.

After the Left and the Congress, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also jumped into the fray against the BJP over the demolition drives, terming them the largest “calamity” to have reared its head in the city directly affecting 63 lakh residents of unauthorised colonies and slum clusters.

The BJP and the civic bodies, meanwhile, remain divided over the long-term utility of the exercise.

Why now?

According to sources, the demolition drives will continue “as per schedule” under the newly constituted MCD too.

Sources in the BJP questioned the timing of the drives and the possibility of such activity proving detrimental to it in the long run. “After several months of a citywide outreach programme in unauthorised colonies and slum clusters, led by Delhi BJP unit president Adesh Gupta himself, in which several national leaders also participated, these drives are an example of moving one step forward and two steps back,” a party insider said.

According to another source, leaders from various levels across the BJP’s hierarchy have approached the party leadership with complaints against the demolition drives, citing the possibility of them denting the party’s poll prospects. “Those against the drive have especially underlined the religious rhetoric revolving around it as well as the potential it has of alienating voters from the economically challenged background residing in unauthorised colonies and slums,” the source said.

Show of strength

Sources in the civic bodies termed the drives “a show of muscle” by the ruling party as well as two municipal commissioners — Gyanesh Bharti of South corporation and Sanjay Goel of North civic body — who were aiming for the commissioner’s role in the unified MCD. Mr. Bharti has managed to bag that post.

The anti-encroachment drives — starting from the action in riot-hit Jahangirpuri, followed by a failed attempt at Shaheen Bagh and the exercise that turned violent in Madanpur Khadar — were met with severe criticism within the civic bodies.

According to data compiled by a Special Task Force (STF), from April 16 to 30, the North civic body cleared 48.5 km length of roads, streets, footpaths; during the same period, the South and East civic bodies cleared 68.8 km and 55 km, respectively.

“Until the commissioner decides, nothing happens. These encroachments have been there for many years, so why the sudden amping up of drives? The choice of areas for the drives is also an indication that it is a show of strength,” said another senior civic official.

‘Refresh’ button

Another section of BJP leaders and civic officials, however, sought to throw their weight behind the demolition drives.

“The idea of ‘bulldozer drives’ was imported to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh where its success led to the re-election of Yogi Adityanath. They[BJP leaders] have applied the same trick in Delhi and the lower middle-class citizens are more than satisfied with the action against illegal constructions, which sully the environment near their homes or trigger traffic congestion,” said a senior party leader. “You have to understand that everything is happening as per a strategy — in one stroke the BJP has displayed that it is capable of taking tough decisions and will not tolerate lawlessness from any community; at the same time, it has also put the Delhi government on the back foot,” the leader said.

The drive, another senior Delhi BJP leader pointed out, had also given the party an opportunity to “lose dead weight” in terms of allegations of corruption on the part of local leaders at the municipal level and build a new cadre at the civic level.

This sentiment was echoed by a senior civic official who argued that this was a new way for the BJP to continue with its tested strategy of replacing faces at the municipal level to enhance its poll prospects by nipping anti-incumbency in the bud.

“The party is looking for new faces, because even senior leaders, including Mr. Adesh Gupta, have no clue on what is happening. In the 2017 elections, the party had brought new faces in order to curtail the anti-incumbency and the allegations of corruption that was levelled against them by the Opposition,” said the senior official.

New beginnings

With the unified MCD set to be constituted on Sunday, several senior civic officials said they were unaware of the way forward.

While the process of introducing the Bill to unify the three corporations and passing it in the Lok Sabha was swift, there has been no communication after that on significant problems such as grants to tide over financial liabilities worth thousands of crores, said the officials.

“The decision-making is happening at a higher level, but we have been in the dark about what lies ahead. If the unified MCD starts off without the financial crisis being solved, then there will be no difference from the current situation,” said an official.

The official added that the main reason for unifying the three corporations was to resolve the financial crisis, which has led to employees remaining unpaid for months and further leading to recurring protests that have disrupted the daily operations of the civic bodies.

According to the financial details of the three corporations sent to the MHA, that were previously accessed by The Hindu, from the financial year 2016-17 to 2020-21, the combined budget expenditure of the three corporations was over ₹53,000 crore, while the combined revenue stood at slightly over ₹32,000 crore.

Civic officials have time and again pointed out that this is an indication that the civic body will require financial assistance, starting with a bailout package to clear its liabilities.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2022 7:40:11 pm |