Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cleaning up Act

Jagdamba camp slum in South Delhi is settled around a very large open drain or naala. Sanitation and health issues in the area centre around the naala. It is for this reason that lack of periodic cleaning of the drain till recently was a matter of grave concern for the residents of the camp. According to residents, the cleaning and desilting of the naala, which is the responsibility of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, was not done for over ten years and as a result its depth reduced from 6 feet to less than 3 feet.

The drain often got blocked, filling people’s homes with filthy water laden with garbage and pests. Manjuran, a resident of the camp, says “Mere ghar mein khane peene ke bartano mein nale ka pani bhar jata tha. Keede chadhte the.” (Sewage water used to get filled in my utensils, the house used to be crawling with pests). She is one among many who had to grapple with this plight.

After repeated pleas to the MCD to clean the naala went unheard, residents took up this key concern at Satark Nagrik Sangathan’s meetings. An RTI application was filed by residents in January 2005 seeking information from the MCD about the stipulated frequency and extent of the cleaning of this naala as well as names and attendance registers of karmacharis and officials responsible for the task. They also sought the names of the relevant authorities to address their complaints to. The reply obtained stated that the naala is to be cleaned once every year before the rainy season. Records obtained included a completion report stating that the naala was thoroughly cleaned in 2004. The said expenditure for this was Rs.1,10,252!

Faced with this information people were indignant and decided to file a complaint in the MCD on the basis of the records obtained. However before they could do anything, the MCD Junior Engineer and inspector visited the slum and assured the residents that they would get the naala cleaned properly. The result of Jagdamba Camp residents using the DRTI Act to seek information has been that the naala has recently been thoroughly cleaned and desilted for the first time in over ten years bringing much needed relief to the residents.

The real impact of the process of seeking information, however, goes beyond the cleaning of the naala and is summed up by Sushila, the president of the camp’s mahila mandal, “Sangathan banakar soochna ke adhikar ka prayog karne se jaise sabki aankhon pe pada parda ekdum se hat gaya. Ab kabhi bhi bedhadak hokar apna hisab apne aap le sakte hain.” (Collective use of the RTI has led to total transparency, we can now demand accountability from the government without any fear).

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