Allowing mosquitoes to breed leading to spread of vector-borne diseases like dengue is equivalent to penal offences like culpable homicide and rash driving, the Delhi High Court today told the three municipal corporations here and said “heads must roll” for this.
“Should it not be tested on the lines of culpable homicide not amounting to murder or rash and negligent driving?” the court asked the civic bodies referring to their officials not doing enough to check mosquito breeding.
Ordering that a disciplinary action be taken against the municipal officials who did not discharge their duty of ensuring cleanliness in their respective areas, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the MCDs have “pathetically failed”.
“Instructions have not been followed, so some heads must roll. Come back with the action taken against the officials and not the poor safai karamchaaris,” the bench said and directed that the commissioners of all three corporations be present before it on the next date of hearing on June 27.
The court told the three corporations, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, to first put their “house in order” and ensure their officials are working, before pointing fingers at other causes and agencies for the lack of solid waste management and disposal.
The strong words came after the ASG said that the MCDs and the other agencies need to work together in an integrated and synergetic manner to handle the problem. The bench told the ASG that what was being submitted appeared to be an “excellent five-year plan” over which “a lot of chai and samosas would be exchanged”, but it was being proposed under the premise that MCD staff was working.
“Is your staff doing their job or not? First, address that and set it right. If you are in disarray, then no point in looking at others. First set your house in order,” Justice Shankar said.
The observations and directions came after watching videos, showing a lack of garbage removal, waterlogged filthy roads and clogged drains in several colonies in the capital, filed on record by a journalist who was appointed as a local commissioner by the court.
The local commissioner was appointed while dealing with two PILs, by lawyers Arpit Bhargava and Gauri Grover, seeking directions to the corporations to prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases, which, as per a health ministry finding is also due to lack of solid waste disposal.
The bench said it was “pained” by what it saw in the videos, especially where the municipal cleaning staff were clearing solid waste from drains by hand and added that it was a violation of the law prohibiting manual scavenging apart from “jeopardising” their health.
“This is the 21st century and gutters in Delhi are being cleaned by hand,” the bench said.
The garbage accumulated over several days in various colonies and on roadsides also irked the court which said after heavy rain the situation in these areas would get worse. The corporations also invited the wrath of the bench for filing “fancy 100 page false status reports” projecting the situation in their respective areas as “hunky-dory”.
Rejecting the reports which claimed that regular cleaning was being undertaken and there was complete sanitation in entire east Delhi, the court said the MCDs have “pathetically failed” to discharge their functions. It also rejected their arguments of lack of funds to perform their work, saying neither the citizens nor the statute was concerned with how the corporations do their job.
“This kind of grumbling (of lack of funds) cannot be allowed to affect the citizens’ lives,” it said and added that the court cannot assist in sorting out the funding issue.
“Let the MCDs file a writ petition saying they do not have funds to perform their function,” the court said. It also said there can be one corporation instead of three as “trifurcation idea seems not to have worked”.
The Commissioners of the south and north MCD, who were present in court, also felt the wrath of the bench which said the top officials of the corporations did not appear to have read its earlier orders or even having left their offices to inspect the affected areas.
On being told the East Delhi corporation’s Commissioner was in Stockholm, in Sweden, for a conference on solid waste management, a visibly amused bench said, “that is ironical” and added, “he can justify his foreign visit”.
The court said, “The whole problem is due to the lack or failure to regulate the functions. No one gets out of their office to inspect. There is no regulation.”
The court was also of the view that the manner in which the corporations have allowed regularising of unauthorised colonies has contributed to the problem. The bench said that regularisations and conversion of residential units into commercial were being allowed without evaluating the impact on garbage generation.
“You are not equipped with the data and you have not even begun planning. You have not begun to do anything. That is a foregone conclusion. You are not even doing grass root level segregation of waste nor educating people about it,” it said.
It said the areas where the Commissioners and other senior government officials live are absolutely clean and suggested shifting their residences to areas like Seelampur in east Delhi where garbage is removed after weeks, if ever. Meanwhile, the health ministry submitted a report which stated that there were huge vacancies in the various posts under the corporations that deal with vector-borne diseases.
The ministry told the bench that there were not sufficient malaria inspectors to carry out inspections nor were there any municipal health officers in the three corporations. It said there would be a huge problem as the rains have started to hit the city leading to waterlogged roads and clogging of drains, as was also seen outside the high court, which are all breeding sites of mosquitoes.