Spearheading Civic Infrastructure Development in Guwahati
The recent GMC elections have been the flavour of conversations in lifthe city. Devashish Sharma, Commissioner talks to MELANGE about the ongoing works of the civic body and the key directions in which changes are being envisaged
In your view what have been some of the major milestones, in terms of civic infrastructure of Guwahati, ever since you took charge as the Commissioner of GMC a year ago? At the outset I must state that milestones for a civic body should always be gauged through tangible achievements in terms of pressing issues. And in this case I would like to talk about GMCs ongoing work in the domain of flash floods, drinking water supply, garbage management and street lights.
When it comes to flash floods I will not say that the problem has been completely or even substantially solved but yes we have started approaching the problem from a fresh perspective.
The team that is looking into resolution of the menace of flash floods is headed by a new officer called Asif Ahmed, an engineer who hails from the irrigation department. He has been brought in by the Honourable Minister Ashok Singhal. Ahmed reorganised the whole-setup from a different perspective. Consequently, we have demarcated four causes/parts within Guwahati that translate to flash floods. The five rivers of the city that get clogged by waste and garbage are the first cause. As we all know these rivers are the major source of excess water outlet from Guwahati and hence needed cleaning.
So a massive desilting operation was undertaken around the Bhorolu and other rivers. So as a consequence today areas that used to be waterlogged for about five to seven hours after torrential downpours get cleared within half an hour. But I must say that the rainfall in recent months has been contained within 45 minutes roughly. A two hour downpour will translate to greater encumbrances and I will say that if we work on the desilting operations and river cleaning operations consistently for three years more the situation will be well under control. The second third and fourth causes of flash floods are the big drains alongside streets, small drains in by-lanes and finally the drains that flow by the side of houses in residential areas- all badly clogged with garbage. We employed super sucker machines to clear garbage in places within these drains that could not be manually reached.
Second comes the garbage management and we realised that Guwahati is in dire need of a scientifically managed garbage plant. The concept of a landfill dump site was largely prevalent here. Landfill sites are nothing but identified plots of vacant land where people keep dumping garbage, which eventually translates to mountains of filth. It is but obvious that this is not a scientific or modern way of disposing garbage. So we identified a new place called Belor Tol for putting in place a scientific system of garbage disposal and management. We started digging a pit where garbage will be transferred and covered it with a very high density polyethylene. This high density polyethylene will not allow the toxic water that is generated from garbage to percolotate down to the underground water. We also created a gradient along with the pit so that the water flows through the gradient to a reservoir which can be collected and treated. Along with fixing this water purification system/plant we have ordered a contract for setting up a garbage treatment plant that can handle about 150 metric tons of garbage. This high capacity garbage treatment plant will be instrumental in turning the compost (derived from waste) into Refuse Derived Fuel RDF. This RDF shall be used in cement factories. However, Guwahati city generates about 550 metric tones of garbage every day. So inorder to ease pressure on the main treatment plant/main dumping ground we want to set up decentralized plants, the process for which has already started. We have infact identified five locations for these decentralized plants. These locations that are also essentially going to be secondary garbage transfer stations shall be leveraged substantially to make the streets of Guwahati garbage bin free. For instance we are contemplating of removing the garbage bins from Mother Teresa Road initially and putting all the garbage from the bins in the nearest secondary garbage station. Also we are scouting for barren unused government land and also land that we can buy from private individuals where probably a beautiful house can be built for collecting and storing garbage. Needless to say when we rid the city of garbage bins (mostly open bins) a lot of hygiene will be restored.
Also the process of garbage collection will undergo a change. Till now the NGOs that were engaged in garbage collection were not accountable and hence only appropriately catered to places where they got tips and usually neglected collection in places that are difficult to reach on foot for instance the hilly areas. Now we have introduced a system of accountability/checks and balances as the new NGO's that will engage in garbage collection shall have to pay a security deposit of two lakhs with the Municipality that shall be forfeited in installments if they do not deliver their duties satisfactorily. However in turn we have given them the liberty of collecting a small sum from the individual households. Also we are going to initiate latest technologies in terms of treating garbage at source in the secondary sites. Infact we shall look at instituting a mechanism that will hold good for the next 25 years atleast.
Coming to the issue of streetlights the honourable chief minister has given a mandate that within the next six months all streets of Guwahati should have streetlights.
Firstly, funds have been allocated to the electrical wing of the municipality to repair the dysfunctional lights and replace the existing bulbs with LED lights for minimised electricity consumption. The second mandate is to identify all the streets that do not have street lights and set up the infrastructure in terms of the poles and connections from APDCL. Third is to look into areas where the streetlights are not functioning because of some ongoing civic infrastructure project and largely undertake the mending and rewiring work. Last but definitely not the least in the domain of drinking water we are in the process of repairing all the dysfunctional and broken drinking water pipes. Guwahati Municipal Corporation supplies drinking water to about 20 percent of the city's population. To ensure that some drinking water parched areas are served better we have recently got 16 trucks of capacities ranging between 2 and 10 thousand litres.
So these are pretty much the things that have happened and are happening in my tenure. However, I shall like to add that nothing of any of this would have been possible if my predecessors had not done the incredible work that they did. We as Commissioners only carry forward and build on legacies and I am lucky to be doing that.
What are some of the key administrative responsibilities that the new Mayor of the city will look into? In other words what are some of the fresh/pressing expectations of the electorate.
Drinking water, good door to door collection of garbage, management of flash floods in the city, good motorable bylanes, drains and proper street lighting are the major expectations and am sure he too would like to focus on these perennially pressing issues.
Speaking about fresh expectations of the electorate, I would say that the Mayor will need to keep his flock of 60 councilors united, focused and motivated. I am sure that the people of Guwahati will desire this from the Mayor and will love to see him upholding the interests of the city before and above anything else. The Corporation has been given the mandate to earn its own revenue. Hence consolidating GMCs revenue by developing an efficient tax collection system to fund developmental schemes (instead of asking the government for funds) is a key mandate of the Mayor. Finding a proper mechanism to relocate the ever increasing number of street vendors from unauthorized vending zones, where they have blocked traffic and pedestrian movement around the city, is another expectation. This has to be handled sensitively.
Please share your views on how and why the powers of a Mayor can never be undermined in any administrative situation. And why it is actually a fallacy that a mayor is sometimes less powerful than the Commissioner ?
The Mayor is the first citizen of the city and he heads the Corporation. There cannot be an iota of doubt about this. Secondly, Section 79 of the GMC Act states that votes of the majority are decisive. All matters required to be decided by the Corporation shall, save as in this Act otherwise provided, be determined by a majority of the Councilors voting at the meeting before which the matter is brought.
In other words, if any issue brought before the council cannot be decided by voting, the Mayor in council has the power to give a ruling.
The roles of the Mayor and the Commissioner are different. As the chief executive officer of the Corporation, the Commissioner and his team of officials shall execute the policies framed by the Mayor and his council. It would be incorrect to place the Commissioner in the role of a competitor with the Mayor. He should rather be placed as someone who compliments the Mayor and aids him to make the corporation vibrant and robust.
Definitely but it would be a challenge as a section of our citizens take a sadistic delight in littering the city and indulging in activities which does not befit a civil society. Having said that l would also not shrug away our responsibility of working on developing the civic consciousness of our people. There is a lot to be done on our part too. To mention a few:
1) Developing an effective campaign on garbage segregation at source. Guwahati has to learn to segregate household garbage (wet and dry) in at least two bins. A lot can be achieved if we can impress upon the citizens of our city to hand over segregated household waste to the Municipality.
2) Coming up with an effective plan of action to educate a section of our citizens not to throw garbage on the streets and fill up our drains and river channels with plastic and polythene waste. Besides educating, we may have to come up with a few stringent measures too. This also goes for people who stick all kinds of unauthorised bills around the city and make our walls and public places look so dirty and ugly.
3) Initiatives from the Corporation to build up a sense of ownership and pride for the city would also go a long way in developing the city's civic atmosphere. I am sure our new Councilors who would be assuming office shortly shall play a major role in this regard.
Last but definitely not the least what are some of the goals that you envisage to accomplish in your tenure as GMC Commissioner? Any specific causes those are especially close to your heart? How would you like people to remember you as a Commissioner?
I would primarily focus on garbage and cleaning up of water bodies. Establishment of a scientifically managed solid waste management plant at Belortol along with an effective plan of action (both in terms of policy and implementation) for proper disposal of garbage in Guwahati city shall be my continuing priority. There should be no more landfills and biomining of earlier dumpsites shall be a focus area. We shall continue to look at garbage from a new perspective. Living up to the dreams of Swachh Bharat Mission shall be our guiding light. Through your esteemed daily, I take this opportunity to thank the Honourable Chief Minister and our honourable departmental minister for their unstinted support to the GMC. I congratulate and convey my best wishes to our new Mayor and his council. I am sure we shall make a better team together. A big salute to the citizens of Guwahati for supporting us despite our shortcomings. Also a heartfelt sense of gratitude to all my seniors who held the post of Commissioner GMC for laying a good foundation for us. I am indebted to all former engineers and employees of GMC who toiled hard to keep the system going despite the challenges. Last but not the least heartfelt thanks to my team of Safai Mitras, officers and staff at the corporation who have stood by me in the last eleven months of my tenure.