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Rubbish piles up in pollution-hit Delhi – India cities get funds to tackle woes from sewage to traffic

NEW DELHI: An Indian Army soldier stands guard as children get their photographs taken in front of the Republic Day Tableau of Indian state of Madhya Pradesh depicting models of white tigers at the Red Fort grounds, in New Delhi. — AP
NEW DELHI: An Indian Army soldier stands guard as children get their photographs taken in front of the Republic Day Tableau of Indian state of Madhya Pradesh depicting models of white tigers at the Red Fort grounds, in New Delhi. — AP

NEW DELHI: Rubbish piled up on New Delhi’s streets yesterday as refuse collectors vowed to push ahead with a nearly week-long strike, the latest crisis to hit the world’s most polluted city. Already reeling from dangerously high levels of toxic smog, the Indian capital is now grappling with uncollected garbage that has been mounting in parts of the city since January 27.

Sanitation workers yesterday dumped rubbish outside a Delhi government minister’s home, one of several targeted as part of the protest over unpaid salaries. “The Delhi government spends millions on advertisements, why can’t it release the funds for our salaries,” said Sanjay Gehlot, president of an umbrella group of 60,000 to 80,000 protesting municipal workers. “Today we dumped garbage outside the Delhi tourism minister’s residence in our symbolic protest and caused roadblocks in other parts of the city,” he said, adding such protests would continue.

Using brooms and shovels, Delhi government ministers, along with other officials and volunteers from the Aam Aadmi Party, took to the streets at the weekend to clean up the rubbish. The Delhi government has blamed the city’s three municipal corporations, controlled by its arch rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules at the national level, for the crisis. Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia reiterated yesterday his accusation that the corporations were withholding funds handed over by the government that were meant for workers’ salaries.

“We have said this repeatedly that we have given the dues to the civic agencies,” Sisodia, whose home has also been targeted with piles of rubbish, told reporters. “Now, the civic bodies must give accounts of what they did with the money and why aren’t the workers getting paid,” he said. There was no immediate comment from the corporations on the strike, the second to hit the city in the last year. It comes as Delhi has been shrouded in a toxic soup during the recent winter months, sparking government action to improve the air quality, which regularly exceeds the World Health Organization’s safe limit. A 2014 WHO survey of more than 1,600 cities ranked Delhi as the most polluted, partly because of the 8.5 million vehicles on its roads.

Sewage to traffic
Meanwhile, India took a step toward modernizing its cities on Thursday by awarding 20 with funds to solve problems from shoddy sewage treatment to snarled traffic. The government eventually plans to spend $15 billion to remake 100 cities over five years, Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu said. The first 20 to receive financing include the capital of new Delhi, the western cities of Pune, Jaipur and Ahmadabad, and the southern cities of Chennai and Kochi. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi first touted his vision for creating so-called smart cities across India, there has been little clarity over what “smart” actually means beyond a better life for the country’s 400 million city dwellers.

While India has rapidly urbanized in recent decades, most towns and cities still lack basic infrastructure like running water or stable electricity. Many feature huge slums housing millions of poor. The cities were selected based on their proposals after more than 15 million Indian citizens weighed in on which problems should be solved first, marking “a paradigm shift” in having India’s development guided by the public, Naidu said. Some sent ideas to city officials via social media. Others entered local contests for designing logos or writing essays. Bhubaneswar, the capital of the eastern state of Orissa, unfurled a 10-kilometer-long (6-mile-long) canvas banner across the city and invited residents to scroll down their suggestions.

“We are big believers in the power of competition to spur bottom-up creativity, citizen engagement, and stronger proposals,” said James Anderson of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which advised the government on the program. Some of the proposals mentioned a need for better transportation, sewage treatment, security or trash management. Many envisioned funding through public-private partnerships. The Rajasthani heritage city of Jaipur wants to improve waste management, while New Delhi plans to install underground fiber-optic cables for more Internet connectivity. The traffic-clogged city of Chennai has plans for improving public transportation as well as dealing with disasters like last year’s devastating floods.- Agencies

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