Wednesday, July 2, 2008

'Beautiful' parks for the 'makaanwalas' at the cost of toilets for slum dwellers...

This is a little about a slum area in Jhilmil Colony, beyond Shahdra in Delhi.
A Block basti area:
This basti area has a small population of just about 150-200. The basti area is adjacent to an area where the ‘makaanwalas’ (people with proper brick houses) live.
At present, there is no toilet facility for the people of this basti area. Earlier, there was a proper toilet complex where the facility of toilets and bathing was there. There was proper water supply, all the basti people were very happy. The facility was run by the MCD. Each person had to pay a mere Rs. 5 for the month for to use the toilet. But, about one and a half years back, the toilet complex was broken down and it has been replaced by a park.
I happened to meet the ‘pradhaan’ of the area – he was a ‘makaanwala’ (a resident of a proper, brick house. He bluntly told me that the ‘survey’ that I was doing was of no use. And that everyone is very happy in the area; no one has any problems in the area. (Sure! – He was representing only the ‘makaanwalas’ while saying this).
The women and children of the basti area tell me that about 2 years back the ‘makaanwalas’ went to the area councilor and told him that the toilet complex was of no use to them and that it must be removed and it MUST be replaced by a beautiful park – and that is exactly what has happened. (the remains of the toilet complex are still lying in the park – broken wall parts etc.)
So, where do people from the basti area go to relieve themselves at present? None of the basti people have latrine seats at home. They either go to the forest area which is just across the road from the basti area or “lineon par jatein hain” (“we go to the railway lines”). The railways lines are (of course) very dangerous, no one is sure whether they will return home when they go to the railway lines to ‘go to the toilet’. (They told me that very recently; five people were killed, run over by a train when they had gone to the railway lines to go to the toilet). I am just imagining the plight of the girls and women; they can't go alone - as they are scared of sexual harassment and being laughed at (in case seen 'doing it' in the open on the railway lines).

ALL THE BEST to everyone!


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Things I learnt after visiting the BMC 4 times.

I needed an official BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) report for the last part of my paper. I’ve been trying to get it for the past so many weeks by constantly visiting the BMC office and running around the Hydraulic Engineering department. Last week I finally managed to obtain it and in the process also learnt how to get your work done at the BMC office. Firstly, at the BMC office, 5 minutes = 1 hour. So if someone asks you to wait for 5 minutes, don’t bother. The first 2 times I went, I actually did wait and now I feel really stupid about it. While I was waiting, I just saw random people walking in to meet the very person I had scheduled an appointment with. It took me 2 visits to figure out that if you want your work to be done, wait for 5 minutes as requested and then just enter the person’s office. Surprisingly they do not consider it rude. Oh well, I feel stupid about waiting for so long and wasting my time. So last week, I didn’t bother, I just entered the concerned person’s office and got my work done in 15 minutes.

2) Marathi helps. Recently, the use of Marathi in all administrative work of the BMC was made compulsory. No Hindi, no English, just Marathi. So, the first 2 times I walked in I spoke in Hindi....didn't get a very positive response. The moment I let Marathi words flow out of my mouth, the people were just helpful.

3) The peons and office boys are your best friends. That’s right. If you can become friendly with the peons, they’ll make sure you get into the right office and meet the right person in the least amount of time. In this case too, Marathi helps.

4) People don’t care what you’re doing in the BMC office. Last week, when I finished my 15 minute work, I decided to take a walk in the Hydraulic Engineering department to see if I could get more information from any other BMC officer who was free. It was quite literally comparable to a stroll in the park. Nobody questioned me. No one asked me why I was just randomly walking around the department and making notes. I just thought that that was really strange. So anyone could just walk in and do whatever they want ?

Well, I have what I need now and I’m back to typing out my paper. I realise that I haven’t explained it that well in my previous post. I’m analysing an attempt by the World Bank to privatise water management in a certain area of Mumbai. There are a thousand reasons why they shouldn’t have. Ultimately, approximately 4 crore rupees were spent on trying to initiate this project (which was paid to a private consultant) and nothing fructified. The contract was signed not with the BMC but with an international private consultant named Castalia. The study that Castalia did, for which it was paid 4 crore rupees, was based entirely on BMC data. Fearing a lot of resistance from local activists and residents, the BMC kept changing the project’s name and tried its best not to use the word privatisation. But if one looks at the contract, it’s clear that privatisation was indeed on the World Bank’s agenda.
There have been examples all over the world of water privatisation gone bad..... And why not ? Water is a recognised human right. It is essential for survival. Privatising water would only limit its accessibility and deprive people of this basic human right. The private sector can no doubt improve efficiency, but with profit being an important motive, the ability of the private sector to provide basic amenities like water to the poor is questionable.
In fact, the BMC is quite efficient as well. It is one of the best municipal bodies in this country and the Hydraulic engineering department actually serves as a consultant in various other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A lot of the BMC performance ratios are also similar and in some cases better than those in “world class” cities like London and New York.
I now begin to wonder what prompted the BMC to act so passively when the World Bank interfered. The BMC definitely has scope for improvement, but not in this manner. Anyway, after this privatisation attempt went down the drain, the BMC introduced its own project title the “Sujal Mumbai Abhiyan”. A very controversial part of this project is the concept of pre-paid water meters which the BMC wants to introduce. I have no idea who equated water with cell phones. The pre-paid funda doesn’t make sense for water, because the moment you use up the amount on your pre-paid card, and if you don’t have money to buy a new card/recharge it, you essentially have no water. Again, water is a human right !!!!!!! One can’t just be denied the access to clean, potable water.

Anyway,I hope all of your papers are going well. It’s really interesting to read about all your projects. Some of them are things I had never before thought of. 2 weeks more :)