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Rediff.com  » News » New civic bodies in Maharashtra, but cities will not gain

New civic bodies in Maharashtra, but cities will not gain

March 14, 2012 15:00 IST

The city can wait, indefinitely. Of course, its citizens don't count. Those who thought they did and went to vote for a change have fooled themselves, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Now that ten cities in Maharashtra have got new civic councils, including in Mumbai, would things change for the better?

This question has to be asked, especially in the context of the anti-corruption mood in the country where citizens rallied vociferously, never seen after the Jayaprakash Narayan movement.

To put it simply, the answer has to be in the negative.

Let us examine the question, taking Mumbai as an example.

Much what is said here is true of many, in fact many, cities across the country. It would be nice to know of exceptions so such standards could be -- like a hope in hell -- imposed upon the bad ones.

The same political parties, Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party secured the city corporation and are happy with the mandate, have their own mayor elected. They also were elected in the face of the not-so-successful bids by citizens themselves to replace the political class due to disenchantment at the way they have been running the city, year after year, term after term.

If they see their own election despite the anger against their tribe, they ought to see the writing on the wall and change their ways lest a ripple of 2012 turn into a wave in 2017; that, of course the optimist in me speaking. Chances are, however, they would see their victories as a manifestation of weak citizenry and walk the same path as they always have.

In fact getting elected in the circumstances for the fourth term is going to be seen as vindication of their time-honoured corrupt ways, of needing to do nothing more than make false promises, protect the illegal, and when necessary and where possible, bribe the voters. I heard one of the corporators saying that they bribed their way through even middle-class housing societies; the archetypical bribe-prone was not merely a slum resident.

These politicians paid their way through to the civic body by painting buildings free, putting in interlocking blocks (we call them paver-blocks), funding vulgar Ganapati festivities, and several other gifts in kind. These cost money, it was spread across the year of 2011, and these costs have to be recovered.

The same person told me, it is no more Yatha raja, thatha praja but Yaa praja, thatha raja! It is hard to argue against this logic.

There, you have it: the new emergent paradigm of governance where both the voter and the voted monetise their strength, in the bargain ensuring that the city and its conscience could be irredeemably mortgaged. In this strengthening paradigm, steeped in expediency and cynicism, there are short-term wins for the voters, long term gains for the politicians, and irretrievable loss of a city and its soul.

Much can be said of any of the city where the new bodies have replaced the old.  It would be a pipedream to expect smoother roads, including during rains, and footpaths that are not encroached upon, all the garbage cleared from the streets -- in short do what minimum a civic body should routinely do for that is their mandate.

Thane will continue to have half its municipal buses out of commission because of breakdowns or lack of resources to maintain the fleet; the passenger fretting at the bus stop. The garbage that is half-heartedly collected from some parts of the city would be hidden here and there because it does not have a garbage dump of its own.

Ulhasnagar would not cease allowing illegal constructions -- anything anywhere anyhow -- because that is its main industry. Pune will always see the city fathers competing to put one of the two parties down: Congress will mess with Nationalist Congress Party and vice versa. The city be damned.

Likewise, with the other cities. Mumbai, which has been told by a third party international auditor that its road-building contractors have cheated the city on an astonishingly huge scale by under-executing the work given to them, will see the politicians, the bureaucrats and the contractors in happy but gainful incest. They will talk of big-ticket projects. You will see slow and certainly poor execution.

Poor municipal governance is the bane of this country where each city, regardless of the unspeakably vast sums of money being poured into them, only becomes increasingly derelict. What else could one expect where outcomes are not the objective but cash flow from the coffers into the unholy triumvirate's deep pockets?

The purpose is not governance but personal enrichment. The intent is not pubic good but self-serving greed. The objective, to ensure its perpetuation, is the subversion of democracy where the vote is a mere ritual.

And happily, we shall have our 'local self-government' functioning where the self gets a new meaning.

The city can wait, indefinitely. Of course, its citizens don't count. Those who thought they did and went to vote for a change have fooled themselves.

Amen.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar