OUT OF THE BLUE
As you read this, a delegation of 16 Uttar Pradesh (UP) municipal commissioners, a few state officials and some officers of the probably defunct UP Academy of Administration and Management (headquartered in Lucknow) will reach Indore, the city that has of late emerged the cleanest in the Swachh Bharat rankings.
Indore — as some readers may be aware — has done a remarkable job in cleaning up its act and in managing waste. The municipal body has taken the bull by its horns and has managed to change the face of the city.
The recent outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in Gorakhpur is a pointer to the sanitation levels in Adityanath’s state. But as ranking after ranking has shown, few states in India need a lesson on “how to do it” more than UP. In the list of the 10 dirtiest cities in India, five are in UP. Leading the list is Gonda followed by Hardoi, Bahraich, Shahjahanpur and Khurja.
The cities in the list come as a bit of a surprise to many because many, including me, were under the impression that some of the larger towns like Varanasi, Allahabad, Ghaziabad, Meerut and even Lucknow had set new benchmarks in how bad things could get.
But the new chief minister seems to have set his sights on taking a leaf out of Indore’s book. The idea behind the visit is for the commissioners to get a “live lesson” on how to get door-to-door collection to work, how to embark on an effective awareness campaign, get residents to segregate their garbage at source — the whole gamut of initiatives and steps Indore has managed to put in place in record time.
After visiting Indore and getting an insight into what it takes, I can safely say that this requires a commitment and a political will one doesn’t see often in Indian administrations and if UP actually succeeds in doing even one-tenth of what Indore has managed, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Why do I say this? Following in Indore’s footsteps means taking the biggest and most stubborn bull by its horn: people. Perhaps the biggest problem faced by municipal bodies across the country is also the one that makes this one of the most coveted jobs. A recent news report on UP said that the state was looking to recruit around 20,000 sweepers and drain cleaners and had received around 20 lakh applications for the jobs. In other words, one out of every hundred will make it. As is often the case, there are MBAs, MCom and MSc degree holders — all clearly overqualified — applying for the positions from cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Those being interviewed for the job were most attracted by the fact that it was a “job for life”. As anyone with any experience of government will testify, removing an employee of a municipal body is almost an impossible task.
Indore, when it started out, was no different. The city had close to 5,500 employees in the Nagar Nigam. The body — like most corporations in the country — is highly unionised and it is almost impossible to fire an employee for non-performance once he has been made permanent.
To overcome this, Indore employed a clever tactic. It took the powerful union leaders and the more prominent figures into its confidence. In a sort of negotiated settlement, it agreed to protect the kith and kin of the prominent leaders and their families. As a result, a promise to leave alone around 150-odd employees was made even if they did no work whatsoever. In many cases the authorities asked these employees to stay at home to avoid vitiating the atmosphere. They would however continue to receive full salary and benefits. Although the commissioner — when questioned on this — refused to comment, one of the senior officials involved with the process said that the members protected would act as “parasites” on the system but the price was worth paying.
In turn, the authorities sought the right to “handle as they wish” the remaining employees of the Nigam and in due course managed to fire 600 non-performers. The moment the firing of employees began, the workers became far more responsive. To bring a visible change in the work culture, the authorities hired 1,000 willing workers.
Of course as we all know with most Indian states — including UP — this problem of non-performance runs deeper and begins at the very top. And for that Adityanath may need to look at Delhi — not Indore — for guidance.