It’s been a week since 17 people died in the fire at the Bawana firecracker packaging unit. Two separate enquiries were ordered by the Delhi Government and the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. The Delhi Police Crime Branch is investigating.
On the ground, nothing has changed. Illegal factories, many with a common entry-exit, and negligible ventilation, continue to operate in the area, which was notified by the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) as ‘industrial’ after a 1996 Supreme Court order aimed at stopping the proliferation of illegal industries in East Delhi.
However, DSIIDC, does not give licences to the factories there. That’s the job of the now-trifurcated Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). DSIIDC lays down basic guidelines the factories are supposed to follow.
The North MCD and the Delhi government are now blaming each other for lapses that allowed the illegal factory to operate in violation of fire safety and labour norms. The North MCD inquiry is understood to have concluded that the civic body did not give the factory the licence to operate, and since there was no machinery inside the building, it does not even qualify as a ‘factory’.
The leaders of Delhi’s elected government have blamed most of its problems — law and order, pollution, housing, illegal constructions, even pollution — on the multiplicity of authorities in the state.
How Delhi differs
At the National Development Council meeting in December 2006, then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: “Delhi is governed by four institutions. The elected government, the Lt Governor, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which is under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the DDA which is controlled by the Union Ministry of Urban Development. The Lt Governor, apart from exercising powers in the reserved subjects, i.e., ‘public order’, ‘police’, and ‘land’, also exercises functional powers concerning ‘transferred’ subjects… A Presidential Order under Article 239 of the Constitution requiring the Lt Governor to consult the Chief Minister in matters of reserved subjects is yet to be issued. The Master Plan for the city is prepared by DDA without participation of the elected Government of Delhi. Central Government enjoys almost total control over MCD… Lack of powers with the elected Government of Delhi coupled with lack of coordination among multiple authorities governing Delhi has became a bane of citizens, who have to literally run from one authority to another for getting their routine works done.”
In her 15 years as Chief Minister, Dikshit brought up the issue of multiplicity of authorities several times. The AAP government is now in the Supreme Court, asking that elected representatives be made the city’s administrative head.
How Delhi suffers
The absence of a single authority often translates into an absence of accountability. Basics like sanitation, roads, housing, and even parking, suffer. And every once in a while, a tragedy like Bawana happens.
Officials at the erstwhile MCD point out that at least six agencies are involved in maintaining the city’s roads: the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Central Public Works Department (CPWD), state Public Works Department (PWD), the three municipal corporations, the DDA and the DSIIDC.
Parking rates are different in different parts of the city, depending on which corporation — North, South, East — the area comes under. “Netaji Subhash Chandra Marg divides the Daryaganj market into two parts, one under the North MCD, the other under the South MCD. Each has different parking rates. We can’t even have uniform policies within one market, let alone the city,” said a senior official who was part of the unified corporation.
Consider land ownership and development. DDA is the city’s landowning and development agency. It also makes the Master Plan. But the layout plan of the city is made by the Delhi government. And it is the municipal corporations that enforce the decisions. “The corporations end up with something they were not even involved with when it was built,” the official said.
Transport is with the Delhi government, but if it buys buses for the city, it is the central government that must give it the land to park them. Again, in a city where traffic is a becoming a huge problem, it does not help for the Transport Department to have no control over the signalling system (which is with the Centre-controlled Delhi Traffic Police).
On markets, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said, “What does the Centre have to do with a market in Karol Bagh or Laxmi Nagar? If the Delhi government wants to authorise a market, it should be able to. That is how capital cities across the world work.”
No planning either
“In a city where there is no accountability, there can be no planning either. We don’t make plans to develop the city, only for contingency management after a crisis has hit. Imagine having four Parliaments for states in the North, East, South and West,” the MCD official said.
Consider primary education. Children in primary classes study in schools run by the municipal corporations, New Delhi Municipal Council, and the Delhi Cantonment Board, among whom there is no coordination. Class 6 onwards, all government schools are under the Delhi government. So when the Delhi government recently decided to divide children in the same classroom into readers and non-readers, the intervention was made for Classes 6-8, and children in primary schools were not part of the programme.
“Historically, these issues were not thought through, and the challenges of effective governance under several bodies were not debated. Delhi is the national capital, yes — but it has citizens who live here, and have to carry on with their lives,” Sisodia said.