The Curious Case of New Delhi

By Chhavi Kumar & Rohit Mhaske

The status of sanitation and hygiene in the capital of India has gathered national and global attention. It is not uncommon to see heaps of garbage or sense a peculiar stench as one walks through the streets of Delhi. As per the latest ease of living index published by the Ministry of housing and urban development, Delhi ranks 13 amongst the million plus cities. However, within the category of WASH and SWM under the pillar of quality of life, it has scored 33.38. The larger public problem has been broken down to identify two specific problems which are:

a)    Water contamination

As per a ranking based on tap water quality released by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the city's tap water is the most unsafe among 21 State capitals. Samples have undergone testing to assess water quality based on parameters which include physical (which identify odour, turbidity and pH levels), chemical (which identify toxic substances, pesticide residue and excess metals) and virological, bacteriological and biological (which identify harmful organisms and disease carriers). According to data presented in parliament by the UnionMinister for Jal Shakti, Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, salinity (measured by electrical conductivity), was above the prescribed limit of 3,000 micro mhos per centimetre, fluoride, nitrate and arsenic above 1.5, 45, and 0.01milligrams per litre, respectively. 

There is a significant gap between the generation and treatment of wastewater, resulting in untreated waste water being discharged into the Yamuna. The present sewerage network of Delhi which is over 8,400 km long covers only about 78 percent of the city’s population. 21 drains discharge around 850 MGD(million gallons per day) of sewage into the Yamuna every day. According to a report submitted by the DelhiPollution Control Committee and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to the Yamuna Pollution Control Committee, at least 90% of domestic wastewater in the city flows into the Yamuna. However, industries make only 10%-20% of pollution load and the majority of the pollution load comes from domestic sewage, which has not seen any decline.

a)    Improper solid waste management

Over 11,000 tonnes per day (TPD) of garbage is generated per day in the city. About 8,000 TPD of waste is collected and transported to three landfill sites at Bhalswa, Okhla and Ghazipur. The three landfill sites are not designed as per specifications mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. According to the MasterPlan for Delhi, 2021, these landfill sites had exceeded their capacity way back in 2008. Most of these sites have contaminated the aquifers and groundwater in and around their neighbourhoods. According to an assessment by the Centre for Science andEnvironment (CSE), every tonne of waste disposed of at a landfill would cost the MCD about Rs 14,500. Amidst this scenario, Delhi clearly cannot maintain the status quo.

Delhi presents a unique case of urban governance owing to a complex interplay of the union, state and the local governments. Each of these levels of government have varied stakes involved in governing the city giving rise to a multitude of agencies posing hindrance in service delivery.

The Delhi Government's Structure

Active citizen participation and citizen grievance redressal is a crucial and important part for city governments. There are formal mechanisms of citizen participation existing already within the city. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is divided into 272 wards and 12 zones. There is one Ward Committee in each of the 12 zones of the three MCDs. The Ward Committee consists of councillors from each ward under one zone. However, the involvement of ward committees in deliberating on civic issues in Delhi is less (38%). Mohalla sabhas constitute another unique platform for citizen engagement in Delhi. Even though they are 2,972 in number across 70 constituencies with all registered voters of the area, they haven't excited the citizens of Delhi.

The solid waste management rules, 2016 is one example of a policy response to the problem of solid waste mismanagement. It recognised the extent of waste generation and provided rules which could guide the preparation of action plans.  The new rules have mandated the source segregation of waste in order to channelise the waste to wealth by recovery, reuse and recycle. Oriented towards reducing the existing pressure on landfills, the rules make the waste generators liable to segregate waste into three streams - Biodegradables, Dry and Domestic Hazardous waste. However, as per the Delhi economic survey 2020-21, waste segregation at the source is being implemented in just 32% wards in the national capital (94 out of 294 wards).

Section 15 clause c) of the SWM rules 2016 talks about the duty and responsibility of the local authorities to establish a system to organise the informal waste collectors for their integration and participation in solid waste management. However, Delhi witnesses frequent strikes by sanitation workers due to non-payment, delayed payment of salaries and a lack of provision of safety equipment. This leads to excessive amounts of garbage littered on the streets reducing the ability of specific areas of the city. Speaking from a social justice point of view, sanitation workers in Delhi have been residing in socially segregated spaces as 95% of them belong to the scheduled caste. Most of the sanitation workers’ colonies such as ShahbadDairy, Sultanpuri, Mongolpuri, 100 quarter (popularly known as ‘sau’ quarter) at DelhiGate have been systematically ghettoised in the city. 6 April 2020. Being victims of isolation and untouchability adds to their woes. Empowerment of ground workers like rag pickers must be emphasised on for segregation of waste.

Most of the waste, if successfully recycled with new technologies which are more environment friendly and which facilitate jobs for people in the vicinity can prove to be a game changer. However, initiating a behaviour change and generating more awareness can nudge people to voluntarily come ahead to solve this problem. Going forward, to tackle the problem of solid waste mismanagement, it is important to strengthen the citizen-state relationship. Through active citizen participation, the existing systems in place become transparent and accountable towards not only towards their mandates but also respond to citizen demands.

The local authorities in Delhi can learn lessons from their counterparts in the states of Goa and Kerala. Panjim City Corporation intensively campaigned and held meetings with RWAs for increasing the mass awareness levels about waste segregation and management. Kochi municipal corporation has put the onus on wards for monitoring garbage. Delhi can possibly create an ecosystem for enhanced involvement of its citizens in waste management.

The D21 - Janacek method is a modern voting and electoral method making any group decision more effective. It enables casting multiple votes, and in certain cases, also a minus vote. This novel voting method can allow citizens in Delhi to better express their concerns related to SWM and WASH through the existing platforms for citizen participation. The benefits of this method can be applied to strengthen the citizen-state relationship as follows:

· Activating the existing platforms: There are 2,972 Mohalla sabhas across 70constituencies with all registered voters of the area. Through these platforms, citizens from diverse socio-economic backgrounds can come together to identify and deliberate upon the issues related to SWM and WASH which are of concern to them. Collectively, using the Janacek method, they can prioritise which are the issues which have to be prioritised and require immediate attention of the concerned authorities.

· Establishing consensus: Once prioritised, a consensus is built on issues of utmost concern. Thereafter, the selected members of Mohalla sabhas who are amongst pro-active citizens of the area contact their councillor who is an elected representative, representing their ward in the ward committee. Through dialogue, issues as prioritised by the citizens of the Mohalla sabhas, are conveyed to the councillor.

· Representing the interest of citizens in ward committee meetings: The councillor makes a note of the issues high on priority as conveyed by the mohalla sabha members. Citizens' concerns are then voiced in front of all the members in the ward committee meetings. The Janacek method can therefore be put to use at the ward committee level to initiate another round of deliberation for filtering out the most common issues as raised by citizens across Mohalla sabhas.Thereafter, collaborating with the concerned stakeholders, a draft action plan can be prepared to address the issues.

· Deciding on processes: As the Janacek method is simple and easy to understand, it can be helpful in deciding the rules and regulations which guide the Mohalla sabha meetings. In fact, the voting method can also be used to decide on the internal processes involved in the functioning of Mohalla sabhas such as where will they meet, when will they meet, who will decide the agenda, where the agenda will be published, etc.

The above-mentioned benefits can be achieved by Institute H21 training elected representatives and bureaucratic officials of the state and the local government in the benefits and use of the Janecek Method of Voting. Once the decision-makers are onboarded, a detailed plan of action can be designed by IH21, for which the following points would be pertinent:

a. How to create awareness amongst the citizens about the Janecek method: Through collaboration with the ward councillors and Mohalla coordinators, the implementing agency can target the outreach of all the 40-50 mohallas for conducting workshops. To accelerate the process of educating the citizenry, volunteers from within the targeted communities in a Mohalla can be trained on how to spread awareness about the Janecek method. They will go on to percolate the knowledge amongst their community members in a simple and easy to understand manner. In addition to community volunteers, citizen collectives can be partnered with to expand reach through their networks and connections. Some of the activities which can be undertaken to spread awareness include community dialogues through meet-ups and round table discussions, simulation games, case study competitions, showcasing documentaries capturing successful implementation of Janecek method. Technological integration in the form of creation of a website as a dedicated platform to know about the what, why and how of the Janeck method shall help in reaching out to more people in less time.

b. How to curate a list of issues which are faced by each Mohalla: Data collection can be done by:

i. Moderated discussions during citizen awareness meet-ups

ii. Qualitative data collection through one-on-one interviews with a representative sample in a Mohalla

iii. Government documents and reports

iv. Journal articles and research papers

v. Newspaper articles and op-ed pieces

Here's the list of strategic phases for conducting a Mohalla sabha meeting:

i. When will they be held? Mohalla Sabhas will be held at least once a month on a fixed date, time and location. Special Mohalla Sabha meetings can also be called at short notice to discuss urgent matters.

ii. What will be the agenda and how will it be decided upon? The agenda for every such meeting can be decided by the designated Mohalla coordinators in discussion with the community volunteers of each Mohalla. The agenda can be shared with Mohalla members through social media and via notices/circulars.

iii. How will issues be discussed and decisions be taken in Mohalla Sabhas? The Mohalla Coordinators will call for discussion among the people attending the Mohalla Sabha, and present the curated list of issues that need to be discussed in the meeting. The issues will be prioritized based on voting based on the Janeck method.

iv. How will the voting take place? The implementing agency, Institute H21 can provide the online voting platform for using the Janeck method. They can also provide paper ballots in cases where digital access is weak or isn’t available.

v. How will the issues prioritized in Mohalla Sabhas be conveyed to decision makers? The Mohalla coordinators can be made responsible for conveying the issues prioritised to the ward councillor once the meeting ends. The citizens will therefore hold the mohalla coordinators and ward councillors accountable for their actions. Mohalla members can devise accountability mechanisms like monthly reporting in the form of written reports or PowerPoint presentations to check progress on action taken. 

vi. What will be the source of funding? For redressal of issues prioritised in Mohalla sabhas, the Delhi Government has created the CITIZEN-LAD fund also known as the swaraj fund.

vii. What will be the source of registering complaints? Complaints can be registered on a website which is developed as a one stop information platform for Mohalla sabha. Or, complaints can be registered with Mohalla coordinators and citizen volunteers who will then be responsible for grievance redressal.

In conclusion, it can be said that the novel voting method can act as a tool for Delhi’s citizenry to raise issues related to SWM and WASH in front of decision makers.As a tool, it will allow citizens to establish a stronger connection with the local state in the capacity of an active participant in the governance of their city. Through their involvement, they will be able to not just raise issues, but in return demand responsiveness, accountability and transparency from the actors involved in ensuring SWM and WASH in the city. Yes, there can be limitations owing to the political and administrative will or a disinterest within groups of citizens to share responsibility in governing the city as per their expectations. Yet, if considered seriously with an objective of enhancing citizen participation, the voting method can act as a transformative agent in making cities better places to live.

At the dawn of a new decade, the world stands at a crucial juncture of fighting with an invisible enemy which is making us lose our hopes of returning back to normalcy, each day. The going is getting difficult, yet it presents an opportune moment for us to re-think and re-emphasize on issues which have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the ongoing crisis. With sanitizers, masks and social distancing becoming the norm, one such issue which has raised its head up is the state of sanitation and hygiene in our cities. Though urban sanitation has been shaped as a public discourse in the recent years since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, the progress towards a Clean India appears to be slow and less than satisfactory. To expedite the progress, it is important to understand what lack of sanitation and hygiene means to people who are situated in a particular context and how people themselves can become a part of the solution.