Municipal Corporation of Delhi has emerged as a major source of initiatives contrary to Delhi Master Plan / in pursuance of so-called “guidelines” for DMP-2021 in the last year. News reports of just one day provide a rare clarity snapshot of the drift of so-called “reform” of MCD as well as of the sheer inertia driving it at reckless pace regardless of MCD scams posing serious questions about the direction of its drift, just as the DDA scam of 2003 was not allowed to stem DDA’s drift from mandate.
Five of MCD Commissioner’s projects figuring in press reports on 19.08.04 provide a striking glimpse of the overall pattern in which MCD is currently functioning.
- In Express Newsline MCD Commissioner has announced “modalities of the project” that he “had asked the Urban Graphics Forum, a body set up by the MCD to look into issues of advertising and city accessories (street furniture etc),” to work out, in which MCD has “identified as many as 800 points in its 134 wards where advertising will be allowed officially”. Each MCD ward will now have a designated “public display area” “located in public spaces such as markets, plazas or common areas in various colonies”. The report suggests that basis of the project, “likely to increase the MCD revenue by at least Rs 15 crore annually’’, is Supreme Court’s 1997 ban on hoardings, which MCD has not been enforcing. But pretty-fication of markets under MCD is something DDA is currently doing with 35 crores of public money and no basis in its mandate and pretty-fication of other areas is increasingly being off-loaded to RWAs, etc, with bhagidaari funding and property tax rebates. Net MCD revenue from such chaos is difficult to estimate, as, indeed, is the question of who is entitled to advertising proceeds amidst pretty-fication by all. (see MCD to set up special spaces for ads1)
- Express Newsline has also reported that MCD Commissioner has roped in DDA and DTTDC in some “ambitious project to turn the long Defence Colony drain into a park-cum-recreational area”. The 12.5 km long project from Saidalujab to Yamuna “is to be carried out” by a private landscape architect and detailed project report “will be developed” by the agencies at cost of Rs 18 lakh (9 lakh to DDA and 4.5 lakh each to MCD and DTTDC). DDA’s participation seems to owe to “keen interest” evoked in its Vice Chairman by some MCD presentation and DTTDC seems to be participating “as this is likely to become a major tourist spot”. Basis (in terms of statutory mandates and priorities arising from them) of MCD initiative, DDA keen interest and DTTDC likelihood assumption is unclear. The report only says in this regard that IDFC has “given the civic body a green signal”, though why IDFC should be giving signals to MCD is unclear, and the project will be “linked with the MCD’s decentralised waste-water management system” of which all that is clear is that “MCD will be spending Rs 10 crore” on it. (see Def Col drain revamp to finally get going2)
- Daily Pioneer has reported that MCD Commissioner “is all set to categorise the Capital into seven sections under the new building bye-laws which he is planning to introduce soon”. The “modalities” of this project are to be finalized in a meeting tomorrow. The report does not say who is meeting who, which is important since question of byelaw reform being beyond jurisdiction of MCD remains unanswered as does demand for wider professional debate on nature and purpose of modifications needed. MCD Commissioner or somebody speaking through him seems to have decided that “an empowered body would be set up” to regulate construction and that “certification of the building would be done by the architects”. This is even as MCD itself is duly set up “empowered body” and recent experiments with certification by architects seem to have run into the usual problems of alternative of the same kind and MCD’s own idea of involving architects in its property tax initiative also remains fuzzy (as, indeed, does its property tax initiative, as reported also today in Express Newsline, see Govt tells panel to submit its report on Unit Area method3)
- The Pioneer report has MCD Commissioner adding that a “redevelopment plan” for the Walled City is also to be introduced. This, very likely, means some “plan” of his own (in addition to those of area MLA / Delhi government and area MP / central government and sundry others) pieced together from sundry projects that MCD Commissioner keeps announcing, a recent example (reported in HT on 14.08.04) being his idea of Mall and Multiplex project (after getting the Master Plan modified) on Idgah Abattoir site, for which he had announced last year Abattoir modernization project, complete with tender in Wall Street Journal, while Public Notice for Master Plan modification to permit the obnoxious use (as patently non-permissible in Walled City as Mall-and-Multiplex) was being processed. The Public Notice itself had been issued, for obviously malafide intent, while the matter of Abattoir shifting was sub-judice. The new project idea follows Supreme Court ordering the Abattoir out on 14.07.04. (Another recent project of MCD commissioner – to license commercial misuse in residential premises for revenue raising – was also stayed by Supreme Court on 02.08.04, reportedly on grounds among others that MCD had approached it in SLP against High Court order of 31.05.02 that had held that MCD does not have powers to seal commercial misuse, etc, in which matter MCD seems to have now summons for non-prosecution).
- In a report on a related matter Express Newsline has reported on another of MCD Commissioner’s pet projects, viz, raising revenue for MCD by charging a fee for allowing misuse of farmhouses for parties (even though the notion of a misuse fee is devoid of basis in law and MCD, in any case, is not competent to take action against misuse in agricultural use zone). The project, justified on grounds of the city’s dire need to party, was launched the same day as Pushta clearance after rejecting pleas for postponement of that till after examinations on grounds of children’s need to study. (Subsequent requests for equal policy and determination of misuse fee for rest of Pushta and all other illegalities were also not considered though farmhouse parties are more nuisance than many in terms of noise, traffic, pollution, ground water depletion, etc.) While MCD raised revenue in Pushta by overpricing resettlement plots, MCD Commissioner fielded objections to municipal authority officially making money out of public nuisance with his ideas for nuisance mitigation through baraat regulation, etc. Today’s report has an unnamed senior MCD official lamenting that they have been unable to launch their misuse fee business since one “Tivoli Garden had approached Delhi High Court and obtained a stay on the misuse fine”. The report in which this is incidentally mentioned is about a banquet hall project to deal with the “farmhouse menace” without bothering it. DDA will be auctioning 10 banquet hall plots in Dwarka while “pushing through a proposal to regularise all existing private banquet halls in residential areas”. It is also formulating “architectural norms” for banquet halls, while MCD is pursuing its own byelaw project. (see DDA plans string of banquet halls to end farmhouse menace4)
In neglect (along side abdication at public expense to NGOs, RWAs, etc) of its obligatory functions MCD is clearly busy with developer-style activity unrelated (despite its obligations under DD Act and provisions added to its own Act) to the statutory Master Plan for city development. Its ad-hoc projects do not emanate from any holistic framework for, and therefore can not add up to, efficient and equitable development. They are not justifiable even under 74th Constitutional Amendment, which envisages planning and development role for municipalities only in the ambit of welfare and social justice goals and not for realtor-style projects at the cost of their obligatory functions and, in any case, neither is there consensus on modalities of application of 74th Amendment to metropolitan areas nor has MCD Act been amended for this. MCD’s willful projects, vaguely and implicitly justified as some progressive “reform” (besides the so-called Master Plan 2021 guidelines, about which Supreme Court has remarked that under their garb action against violations has come to a standstill), are devoid of any basis in law or sense. Not only are they obfuscating responsibilities and abetting multiplicity, they are wasting public money and being used to justify revenue raising initiatives that are patently inefficient, often illegal and, in any case, unjustifiable since they are not contributing to / are contrary to MCD’s obligatory functions. The combination, under the garb of “reform”, of projects that MCD need not be doing at all and revenue-raising by bending and breaking rules is headed to atrophy in MCD rather than betterment for the city. That this is no idle conjecture is there for all to see in the state of whatever MCD is mandated to mind in the city as well as in MCD’s current demand for 500 crores to be able to pay salaries. This sort of “reform” is nothing short of abandonment of statutory mandate – and that, rather than who took (or rather got caught taking) how much cash, is what really defines corruption, for which, too, MCD is currently making plenty of news.
Capping a series of revelations about MCD staff, we have The Hindu telling us about no less than MCD Commissioner’s Secretary, a man seemingly rather big for his boots (see Controversial aide of MCD chief “removed”5). And the dust raised by a senior councilor lately caught taking a bribe from a builder in the Walled City is also still up in Times of India (see Councillors to declare assets in public: MCD6). There is also the sleazy saga of twin murder in gay society that connects to MCD via USAID, for which one of the victims worked in development and which is promoter of MCD Commissioner’s building byelaw project and indeed of the pilot project to “reform” MCD. Freely flowing post-corruption anti-corruption prescriptions also continue to make news. There is MCD’s standard prescription of public declaration of assets (reported in Times of India), about which a councilor is quoted saying, “This is merely a face-saving exercise and will never be taken up”. MCD Commissioner’s recourse to computerization panacea for all ills including corruption (reported in HT with the Commissioner’s picture on the same day as senior councilor got caught) has not been reported again, but in similar vein there is a nugget about computer applications to marginalized women (see Microsoft chips in for women empowerment7). There is more on Delhi government’s opportunistic response to councilor scam with trifurcation demand, which opposition has delightfully pitted against rationale for MCD Commissioner’s 500 crore Civic Centre project for which the Commissioner had brought out tenders in his favourite Wall Street Journal last year (see Arya questions rationale behind new Civic Centre8). The Pioneer has launched today a campaign to “press for disbanding the corrupt behemoth”.
With MCD Commissioner feeling free to keep announcing amidst daily reportage of MCD corruption cronie-ship projects regardless of law and courts and with bribe-taking by councilor from builder being followed not by action against bribe-causing projects but by announcements of more projects with likelihood of builder-bribes and by runaway “reform” discourse, it does seem that somewhere at the root of corruption in MCD lies MCD “reform” or at least the message being transmitted at the highest levels that it is all right to not do your job and do whatever else you like and call it “reform” if you can.
In 2001 to then CVC in general (respectably, as co-speaker in anti-corruption seminar) and about DDA (in unsolicited plannerly prose) especially since after the scam of 2003, I have suggested two simple things. One, the definition of corruption in public authorities should be simplified to departure from mandate because, from the point of view of the public, what is relevant is the public loss on account of the drift and not the private pecuniary gain from it; and two, cases caught should lead to healing in the authority and to priority redress for the public aggrieved. These arise only from a basic plannerly principle that there has to be a somewhat sane basis for mooting and assessing responses to corruption (or, for that matter, ideas for “reform”, etc). In face of obvious lack of any great wisdom or even rigour in our times, statutory frameworks settled in times less riddled with crises of sanity and probity seem good enough yardsticks, I think. Not that it is of any consequence what I or any ordinary citizen thinks about such things now that they are all taken over in a National Common Minimum Programme, outside the doors of official multiple minding of which by PMO, NAC and UPA-Left committee seem to hang do-not-disturb signs. Shrill insistence of change in government and stout defiance of inertia in administration seem to leave place only for prayer. Plannerly prayer, then, for respite from MCD projects unrelated to its job (and playing havoc with the Master Plan) for duration of MCD corruption discourse, for long and lingering discourse (prayer only as insurance against the abnormal), for consequent ennui in MCD and for ennui to guide it gently back on course. Amen.
Gita Dewan Verma | Planner | 19.08.2004
- 1. source: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=96073
- 2. source: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=96072
- 3. source: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=96082
- 4. source: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=96047
- 5. Controversial aide of MCD chief “removed”
NEW DELHI, AUG. 18. The Delhi Government is understood to have ordered removal of G.S. Matharoo, the controversial secretary to the MCD Commissioner, Rakesh Mehta.
Mr. Mehta has reportedly been asked to select another officer from the Delhi Government for posting in the Corporation in place of Mr. Matharoo who seems to have earned the ire of the political leadership and the Congress MLAs for acting in an "arbitrary'' manner and sidelining their submissions on various important issues.
http://www.hindu.com/2004/08/19/stories/2004081912090400.htm (Retrieved 29th June, 2013)
- 6. Councillors to declare assets in public: MCD
NEW DELHI: Being an MCD councillor may no longer be the cool deal it has been all these years - with all the power of a public representative and no answerability. But all this is going to change as they may soon have to declare their assets in public as Lok Sabha netas are supposed to before every election.
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2004-08-19/delhi/27150676_1_mcd-councillor-hiren-tokas-mcd-official (Retrieved 29th June, 2013)
- 7. Microsoft chips in for women empowerment
NEW DELHI, AUG. 18. Here is some good news for women living in rural areas and slums of the Capital. Software giant Microsoft Corporation in association with two non-government organisations -- World Links and Development Alternatives -- today launched "Unlimited Potential" -- a comprehensive programme aimed at empowering women through the use of information technology in rural India. In the first phase, the programme will be launched in Delhi on October 2 followed by Madhya Pradesh.
http://www.hindu.com/2004/08/19/stories/2004081912060400.htm (Retrieved 29th June, 2013)
- 8. source: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=96080