'I will not say Delhi is an environmental disaster'

Delhi is bursting at the seams from the pressures of rampant urbanisation. Everything that can possibly go wrong in this metro of 10 million people seems to have already gone wrong. The water, land and air everything seems to have been fouled up, the recent plague being just another grim reminder that the Capital may be running short on time. In the wake of the Clean Delhi Campaign, sparked off by the recent plague outbreak, Delhi chief minister MADAN LAL KHURANA talked to Uday Shankar and Max Martin

By Uday Shankar, Max Martin
Published: Wednesday 30 November 1994

Your government inherited a much-polluted Delhi...
There are many reasons for the pollution. See how much Delhi has grown in the past 2 decades. Its population has grown by 5 lakh every year. Half this growth is due to largescale inflow of people who come here to make a living. These poor migrants build houses, giving rise to a large number of unauthorised colonies and jhuggis. According to a recent survey conducted by the Delhi government, there are 3.8 lakh jhuggis in Delhi, with about 20 lakh People living in them. There are also more than 1, 150 unauthorised colonies, where another 20 lakh live.

Are you suggesting that the poor are the cause of Delhi's environmental problems?
The problem is that these jhuggis and unauthorised colonies are built without any sewage. Nobody cares about proper drainage, and rainwater collects in pits, providing fertile ground for germs to breed. The corporations (the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Committee) can't work in these congested places because they are not approved settlements. Often, other agencies are not in a position to intervene in many of these colonies, or level them out, because of certain government decisions. Moreover, there are court stay orders. So, garbage piles up in these places.

And, it is not just the case of unauthorised colonies. 60 lakh people out of a population 100 lakh live without basic amenities. Six lakh! Without water and electricity, with drainage, without sewage facilities, without to, lets...

You mean the main reason for Delhi's woes are the unauthorised colonies?
This is a major cause, but there are other reasons too. There are problems even in the authorised colonies. People spend lakhs of rupees on houses, but are unwilling to clear the (construction) debris, which costs a mere Rs 5,000. When the debris lies in one place garbage accumulates there. It becomes chaotic after 4 to 6 months, Those in charge of lifting garbage say it is debris and those who are supposed to lift debris claim it is garbage. Between them, nobody cleans it.

Are you talking about inadequacies in administration?
In fact, it is also a question of individual adherence to rules. I am also talking about the citizens' sense of discipline and commitment their city. Last year, electricity tariffs went up by 50 to 100 per cent. But ironically, there was no marked increase in the revenue. It was Rs 96 crore earlier and it remained Rs 96 crore! In the past 2 months, however, it has improved, the revenue standing at Rs 103 to 111 crore. Of course, the majority of the citizens stick to ru1es and pay their dues, but there are also people who steal. In such cases we have certain lacunae in administrative measures. To fill it, we have to set the system right.

What is your action plan for a cleaner Delhi?
The government cannot do it alone. We need the participation of the people. We have set up an expert committee under the chairmanship of the former Jammu and Kashmir governor, Jagmohan, to look into the options to clean up the city. He will formulate a blueprint for action as soon as possible, so that we know what the government can do and what the people can do.

We went on a garbage clearance drive in October. The government had given top priority to the drive. For this, we roped in all the local administrative bodies, including the New Delhi Municipal Council, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority. We are now trying to identify specific problems and examining the possibilities in each area. Take for instance the Inter-State Bus Terminus and the railway stations. We have to see how to clean up these places.

There are 100 lakh people in Delhi. What about the massive amount of garbage they generate?
Of course, we have taken it into account. It is one of the main concerns of the Jagmohan committee. Delhi had an incinerator before, but it could not be run as the waste generated did not have enough calorific value. So, the waste went to landfills. Now we are examining if more efficient incinerators could be put to use to manage the waste. One of the suggestions that came up during the recent deliberations was to privatise waste management in some areas.

We may also tap the potential of voluntary action. For instance, all schools can be asked to clean up their premises once in a month. The children and teachers can get together to clean their school. This will also help inculcate civic values in children.

Also, we have to take care of other institutions. Hospitals, for instance. If the hospitals are not kept spick and span, then the whole country will be exposed to health risks. We have sought the cooperation of all concerned officials and workers. We have given special incentives to all who cooperated in the antiplague operations, right from doctors to safai karamcharis (cleaners).

Internationally, one of the accepted principles in environmental protection is to make the polluter pay. Has your government thought in this direction?
It is a good solution, in principle. But in India, the administrative set-up is not adequate to implement such legislation. I think such a move will only create more inefficiency and corruption.

The above measure will also help fix accountability. For instance, Delhi has an acute water shortage. At the same time, colossal amounts of water is wasted. People waste it because it is cheap. Also, if the people are made to pay for generating and dumping garbage, won't they become more responsible in managing waste?
Water is not free. It comes for a price. People certainly have to be more responsible. But I don't think legislation is the solution for that. No, I don't favour legislation.

Because people are not ready for it yet.

But surely some action needs to be taken?
Yes, there has to be a first step. We are taking that step now. That is what the cleanliness campaign and the Jagmohan committee are all about. Delhi weathered the plague outbreak. But it shook us out of our complacency. People have become more aware of the problems...

How do you view the problem of vehicular-pollution in Delhi?
It is the biggest pollution problem. Delhi has 20.25 lakh vehicles. The other 3 metros put together would not have more than 1.85 lakh. We have to find an alternative. There is the proposal for a multi-crore, underground railway scheme to be operational in 30 to 40 years. But it is very expensive and time-consuming. As a short-term measure, I had mooted the refurbishment of the electrified ring railway. I had talks with the (Union railway) minister. But some officials torpedoed the move. Now, a new scheme to employ trams has come to me. It is good. The work will begin next March and will be finished in 3 and a half years.

What about clecentralisation? As per the present dispensation, people have to come to Delhi for all their work. Can't you initiate steps to change that simply because Delhi cannot take it any more?
Look, Delhi is the capital. You can talk about decentralisation. But nobody wants to move out.

What about the National Capital Region (NCR) plan?
Oh, the NCR. The NCR plan has not made much headway. Industries are still causing major pollution problems. There are some 50,000 industrial units in the unauthorised colonies alone. It is really a problem of indiscipline,

All things put together, Delhi looks like an environmental disaster...
We have to set it right. There is no use in just saying things. And I will not say it is a "disaster". Things are beginning to improve. Look at our cleanliness drive.

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