MCD polls: Who will solve East Delhi’s water-logging woes?

Poor drainage system and a failure to desilt drains on time creates havoc for sanitation. As MCD polls draw closer, the residents of east Delhi say that after years of false promises, they now have to weigh their choices
Shibu Kumar Tripathi Delhi

“We are used to walking on submerged roads and bylanes during monsoons and so far civic bodies and the state government has done nothing to improve our situation,” says Amrendra Singh, a local juice vendor in Garhwal Colony of Laxmi Nagar. As candidates try their best to woo voters ahead of the upcoming municipal corporation elections, a major issue dominating the electoral narrative is the failure of the local bodies in putting an end to waterlogging in the area. Continuous rainfall for a couple of hours brings traffic to a standstill, exposing civic officials’ tall claims of having improved the situation.

Delhi has been facing the problem of waterlogging for over a decade and although the baton of power has been passed between three different governments, none has been able to resolve the issue. Poor drainage system and a failure to desilt drains on time creates havoc for sanitation, flooding the nearby areas in its wake. Areas of Krishna Nagar, ITO, Geeta Colony, Lal Quarter remain partially submerged as people wade through knee-dip sewage water to reach their destinations. BS Vohra, president of the East Delhi RWAs Joint Front Federation said, “The situation worsens with the smallest of downpours and the local bodies do nothing to improve the condition. But they are unable to do anything because the corporations don’t have adequate funds.”

A major issue with the civic body is the lack of funds being provided to the local corporators, especially in the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). Following the trifurcation of the MCD, EDMC emerged as the smallest of the three. The area has also witnessed massive strikes by sanitation workers due to delay in payment of salaries. While funds for councillors have been increased in the 2017-18 budgetary provisions to Rs 75 lakh, officials in the Corporation rued that last year despite a budgetary allocation of Rs 1 crore, only Rs 25 lakhs was allotted to corporators. In 2014, only Rs 50 lakh was provided when the Corporation budget provision allocated Rs 2 crore for developmental works. However, in the wake of the upcoming election in 2017, this amount has been pushed to Rs 4.8 crore for the councillor area development fund, providing Rs 75 lakh to each councillor in the EDMC.

The problems run deep as the strike by sanitation workers has only served to enrage the locals. The strike led to a delay in the cleaning of drains which are largely filled with construction debris and garbage. Avnindra Pandey, who lives in Mandawali, said, “The situation is not that bad these days since there are no rains. However, once it starts raining, it is very difficult to cross the roads of the colonies as they are filled with sewage from these drains which are clogged due to garbage. Every individual living in this area suffers, especially those who have houses along the ground level.” Earlier, the corporations and PWD would conduct desilting of drains twice every year before monsoons and after the monsoon. The increasing population and the never-ending construction activities in the National Capital Region have created circumstances where desilting is required every month of the year.

The perennial blame game between the PWD and EDMC over their responsibilities in maintaining roads and sewage canals has further delayed the work. Talking to Hardnews, Ajit Singh Bunty, a resident of Geeta Colony, said, “The government, both at the state level and at the level of the local bodies, are least concerned about the problems being faced by the citizens in the area. The local MLA fails to get any work done. Only when you call him or reach him, does he take note of the problem. We have complained on numerous occasions about the problems of waterlogging at the EDMC headquarters, but nothing has been done so far. We give money out of our pockets for the maintenance of the area. If this continues, we will have to think about who to vote this year.”

The problem of waterlogging due to clogged drains is not a problem that is limited to east Delhi. During monsoons, it is a common visual throughout the city. Last year, the poor show of civic bodies gained international traction after the cavalcade of then US Secretary of State John Kerry got stuck in traffic snarls due to waterlogging after Delhi witnessed heavy rainfalls on the day. The Supreme Court has also made scathing remarks against the local bodies and PWD for their failure in carrying out their duties. The court, while hearing a petition filed by Col (Retd) BB Sharan seeking directions for maintaining cleanliness in Delhi, observed, “Each of the agencies in the capital of Delhi does not do their work and because of the multiplicity of agencies, they pass the buck to each other.” Noting that the civic bodies were “not serious” towards their work, the court directed them to frame bylaws for plastic management and implement them.

While the bylaws for plastic management are yet to be implemented, the government is moving ahead with its plans to unclog drains by inviting foreign agencies to carry out the work. The Arvind Kejriwal-led government, which has promised to turn Delhi into ‘London’ if they came to power in the civic bodies, has now roped in Ayala Water and Ecology Limited, a Middle East-based firm, to clean up some of the supplementary drains in the city, starting with the 8-Km-long stretch of the Najafgarh drain that empties into Yamuna.

As poll campaign reaches a feverish pitch in the national capital, the issue will create ripples for the political parties who have largely failed in fixing the problem.