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On June 2, almost 50 officers stood in the courtroom, offering little by way of explanation. The Delhi High Court had just played a video showing a “little stick” being used by a municipal worker to clear a clogged drain.
“It is shocking that despite concerns… the Municipal Corporations of Delhi have not moved a single step”, the court said, seeking a reply from all three civic bodies on why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against them.
A day earlier, the court had said it was “misled” by civic bodies on how much ground had been covered in their fight against public garbage disposal and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
“In as much as the issues involve public health, such conduct is unpardonable… While punitive action may be necessary, it is essential to ensure that the work of garbage disposal, which directly impacts breeding of the disease-carrying mosquitoes, has to be addressed on a war footing,” the court told the MCDs.
What transpired inside the court is directly linked to why the capital is staring at yet another outbreak of vector-borne infections. Delhi has already recorded an alarming 40 cases of dengue and 96 of chikungunya — the highest number of cases in the first five months as compared to the last six years. And the real crisis hasn’t even begun.
The Indian Express visited areas deemed most vulnerable in the East, South and North, and found several issues — ranging from poor water supply to lackadaisical civic maintenance.
Nowhere is the situation as alarming as in Sonia Vihar, or ward number 272 under the East Delhi Municipal Corporation — which was among the worst-hit areas last year (see box).
The entry into various blocks of Sonia Vihar is through a pushta or embankment along the Yamuna. Large blue pipes emerge out of the water treatment plant next to the embankment. As one goes deeper, the landscape changes. Plastic bottles, wrappers and torn clothes come together to form heaps of garbage. Between one pile of garbage is an MCD sign: “Yahaan kuda na dalein…. Rs 5,000 jurmana.”
Next to the sign, 44-year old Amir rummages through the refuse. “I come here every day to pick up plastic bottles. It is the MCD’s job but no one comes here. Ragpickers like me collect whatever can be recycled; the rest remains dumped here,” Amir says.
Sonia Vihar’s waste problem is symptomatic of a larger malaise in the EDMC’s jurisdiction. The east civic body, spread across 105.98 sq km, occupies
9 per cent of the capital’s area but has a population of 40 lakh, or 22 per cent of the total population of the city.
While the capital has a population density of 12,129 people per sq km, the figure in EDMC stands at 37,743 people per sq km. The fact that it’s so densely populated makes it an easy target for infections such as dengue, say experts.
“EDMC has the highest population density, which makes citizens more vulnerable. The flight range of a mosquito is 2-10 km for culex, so people in east Delhi are affected when anti-larval measures are not taken in adjoining Loni, Ghaziabad, Sahibabad and Noida,” Dr Brajesh Singh, Additional Commissioner (Health), EDMC had submitted to the court.
An empty plot and stagnated water that has turned green is the perfect breeding ground for the aedes mosquito. Inside containers, they multiply even faster. This is exactly the setting outside Rajesh Rani’s residence in E-Block — an empty plot that has become a de-facto dumping ground for the last six years.
“Look at this site, you’ll see why almost everyone on this street suffered from chikungunya last year. Factories dealing with used refrigerators dump waste in the residential area, and mosquitoes breed on thermocol. I have complained to the MCD twice, but in vain,” Rani, 35, who runs a small shop, says.
“I suffered from chikungunya last year. I travelled back to my village as the condition here was really bad,” she adds, pointing to Anil Kumar’s residence.
Kumar, a contractual worker at Hindu Rao Hospital, has skipped work for the last three days. “My wife is sick. Doctors say it is typhoid. Look at the condition of water
in the area,” says Kumar. Interrupted supply has led to almost every resident storing water in large containers. “Government says don’t store water in containers. Should we stay thirsty and die?” he asks.
Senior municipal officials say there’s not much they can do with “limited” resources. “Supervision at the ward level can be done only if we have enough people on the ground. Malaria inspectors have to monitor every day whether the domestic breeding checker and the field worker is doing his job. But this is not happening in the EDMC effectively. Where are the inspectors to supervise and monitor the situation?” a senior EDMC official says.
Sources told The Indian Express that of the 65 posts for malaria inspectors, 54 remain vacant; of the 153 posts for assistant malaria inspectors, 90 remain vacant; of the 420 posts for field workers, 112 remain vacant; and of the 710 posts for domestic breeding checkers, 34 remain vacant.
“There are 64 malaria circles, 40 lakh people and just 12 inspectors to monitor the work. Even a full strength of 420 field workers can’t check if all the drains are covered. Money issues mean the area keeps witnessing a surge in infections,” the official says.
Sushma Mishra, the BJP councillor from Sonia Vihar, says, “There is a huge human resource crunch. Unchecked drains are the major issue as far as controlling infections is concerned. I have received complaints that large stones have been mischievously placed inside drains. We need to take action, but we have very few workers for legal enforcement.”
Inside Dr A K Rai’s local clinic in E-block, it’s a busy afternoon. With no mohalla clinic and a token dispensary, the area relies on a dozen clinics run by doctors who have migrated from West Bengal. “Last year, it was only when people started coming with severe joint pain that we came to know about chikungunya… The government ought to set up mohalla clinics,” says Rai.
Being in the vicinity of the MCD dispensary doesn’t help either. “I work right outside the dispensary, but I got chikungunya last year. Residents have privately started paying cleaners to clear the mess. It’s been more than nine months but the joint pain continues to affect my work,” 46-year old Sarita Yadav, an anganwadi worker, says.