By B Prasant
IN a free-ranging interview, Bikash Bhattacharyya, noted legal authority and the serving mayor of the vast metro of Kolkata spoke to People's Democracy on the developmental works that had been undertaken during the tenure of the Left Front board between 2005 and 2010. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) goes to gather the people’s verdict on 30 May. Excerpts follow.
Improving water supply, noted Bikash, ‘has been a major focus of the LF-run board over the past half-a-decade.’ The efforts have yielded results. The piped water supply of potable water has been vastly augmented via commissioning of water treatment plants, booster pumping stations, reservoirs, and what he called ‘headworks’ that included covered, underground reservoirs, sinking a big number of tubewells, and revamping the distribution system itself.
Giving examples, the mayor pointed to the commissioning of a 260 MGD water treatment plant at Palta, water-treatment plant and pumping station at Watgunge and Gardenreach, replacement of vital electrical installations at the big pumping station at Auckland Square near the La Martinier’s school at the very heart of the metro, and laying of no less than 200 km of big dia pipes across and around Kolkata – a massive project.
SEWERAGE AND DRAINAGE
Water-logging has been made much of in the corporate media while ranting and raving against the Left-run KMC board. Kolkata as we know has a saucer-like shape and the main drainage to the east of the city has sadly given away to urbanisation with the horizon-touching stretches of shallow water bodies disappearing.
The principal sewer networks were laid in the colonial period and it consists of a century-old brick sewer of 180 km or more. What causes water logging, other than heavy rainfall?
Bikash informed us of the following causes:
Reduction of hydraulic capacity of the sewerage system due to silting
Poor and collapsing sewer lines
Destruction of wetlands that we noted above
Old and creaking pumping machines
Silting up of the ‘outfall’ canals around the metro
The Left-run KMC has undertaken over the past five years a series of measures through upgradation of the sewerage and drainage systems with gradual replacement of the brick stricture with fibre-based gigantic sized tubes – a costly and time-consuming operation. We cannot stop water from being logged, but we could ensure that the accumulated aqua disappeared rapidly enough was how the mayor would put it. The measures taken include clearing the lines, boosting the pumping stations, and re-excavation of the drainage canals.
SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
This is a bane for any metropolis. The Left-led board has tackled this issue in a uniquely pro-people way. The capacity to collect waste has been increased by nearly 70 per cent and 65 per cent of all households stand covered with more in the pipeline, so to speak. The resources and machines used for waste management have been increased manifold. New disposal sites have been set up with facilities for conversion of waste into useful material. Waste is used for landfill with an environmental-friendly outlook.
The mayor pointed out how 30 per cent of the metro populace still lived in bustees (there are officially 5500 such ‘colonies’) and, thanks to the pro-rich bias of the successive union governments bent on depriving the states of their due share of finance, 22 per cent of the metro population yet languish beneath the poverty line if we are to go by the 2001 census figures.
The mayor emphasised on the fact of realisation of the KMC that unless the poor underwent uplift and rehabilitation, the city itself could never flourish as a viable urban centre with a vast hinterland. While the direct pro-poor expenditure back in 2004-2005 stood at Rs 56.16 crore, the present figure is a thumping Rs 138.18 crore.
The expenditure on providing basic services to the bustees has virtually increased a hundredfold. The water infrastructure development mean that bustees now have more in the way of piped water supply, better sewerage/drainage systems to access, better and improved lighting system, and better and longer metalled roads for the people to travel on.
The additional water supply lines measure 47,270 metres, the sewerage, 417,901 km, and roads, a whopping 857,083 km. There are now 113,854 modern latrines, and the ‘old’ hexagonal latrines are being converted to modern toilet facilities. A total of 24,829 lamp posts lit up the bustees.
Community halls have been set ‘up and running,’ the internal pathways of nearly all the bustees have been made into paved ones, whilst on the social side, thousands of mohalla-level communities have been set up to provide gainful employment through self-help and small-scale, plus job-linked training programmes. A BPL list has been published and is again been updated, along with a plan for minority development plan for the metro.
Other sectors where initiates have been set in place in the metro under the leadership of the Left-run KMC board are:
Disaster management, and
Acquisition of land with compensation/ rehabilitation
The past five years have seen the face of Kolkata change for the better. Much more remains to be done. Yet, to the eternal credit of the CPI(M) and the Left Front, the fact remains that the population overload of Kolkata is not increasing exponentially with more population flowing into the developing small and medium townships across Bengal. We shall look to a better Kolkata every time we look on her was how Bikash Bhattacharyya put it.