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For Our Municipal Board: The Clock Ticks!

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We, the Government


By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

They are still basking in the glow of their honeymoon.
Traditionally, politicians are given 100 days in office before their conduct is criticised. Although Mussoorie’s Municipal Board has not completed that period, their performance has been appreciated by many of our citizens. When We, the Government, elected a majority of Independent members to our Board, and decisively rejected candidates from the largest, most authoritative, political party, we were sending a clear message: “We are aware of the high-flying concerns of New Delhi. But Dilli door ast. We have to rely on our home-grown netas, you, to solve our own, home-grown problems.”
On the 8th of January, the Garhwal Post reported that a “Municipal sewage tank” had burst “due to which all the filth spread onto the houses.” This is not only disgusting, it is also frightening. In fact, in a tourist town like ours, it could be disastrous. Germs carried by raw sewage could infect hordes of tourists who, on returning home, before the disease has been detected, might spread it by rail, road and air, to the far corners of our land. If Mussoorie got the reputation of being the source of an epidemic, our economy, dependent on our residential schools and tourism, would be devastated.
The GP report went on to say that Municipal Chairman, Anuj Gupta, promised to take action to “operationalise” new sewage pipelines and STPs. That is reassuring and it will be interesting to see how our young Chairman plans to overcome the obduracy of the entrenched bureaucracy of the Forest Department.
As our readers are aware, our sewage system was installed by the British. It is old, over-burdened, and long past its expiry date. Funding for a new system, based on Sewage Treatment Plants, was obtained and, presumably, largely spent. But the completion of the system has been held up because the Uttarakhand Forest Department has not given permission for the STPs to be installed in the areas controlled by them. This is bizarre: one department of our state spends money on a project for the good of its tax-payers which another department of the same state then obstructs… Our state seems to be suffering from a bad attack of Auto-Immune Disease: AIDS! Why was this inter-departmental squabble not sorted out before the money was spent?
There is a very cynical answer to that question but post-mortems and blame-fixing are not our forte. Our job is to bring facts to the attention of the readers of our column. From there on it is up to them to exercise their rights, as We, the Government, and question the authorities responsible for ensuring the continuing efficiency of our sewage system. That’s when they would run into their first Kafkaesque hurdle.
In the old days, a single Health Officer, an employee of the City Board, was responsible for this as he also was for the entire health, hygiene and sanitation of our booming tourist town. Mussoorie thrived. Then Soviet-style Socialism became the in thing. Health, hygiene and sanitation were “nationalised”. The responsibilities of one Board employee were dispersed, divided and diffused over many state controlled organisations. The Jal Sansthan took over the Health Officer’s duties. But that diversion of responsibility wasn’t enough. Another entity called the Jal Nigam sprang into being. If the Jal Sansthan felt that it needed a new sewer line to handle the increased burden of a growing town then it had to rely on the Jal Nigam.
In other words, instead of having to deal with a single river of authority, namely the Health Officer working directly under the Chairman of the City Board, we got a number of little distributaries irrigating their own little patches of turf!
Can our newly elected Municipal Board, with its majority of Independent Members and a pro-active young Chairman, regain control of the affairs of our once superbly managed little town? Yes, they certainly can because that is what We, the Government elected them to do. If they do so, they are likely to be re-elected over and over again.
But if they, like reluctant turtles, refuse to stick their necks out, they should remember that turtles, all over the world, are an endangered species!