This is the second post in a series on “What are Delhi’s MLAs up to?”
In order to understand what Delhi’s MLAs are up to, this time I decided to observe Delhi’s youngest MLA: 26-year old Prakash Jarwal (AAP) from the Deoli constituency. In addition to being the youngest MLA, he is one of the few MLAs who won the 2013 elections by a margin of over 15,000 votes.
Many of Delhi’s Assembly constituencies have a mix of affluent and poverty-stricken areas. Deoli is at the lower end of the development spectrum, replete with unauthorized and unregularized neighborhoods and shanty towns. The few existing roads are always choked and the air always full of fumes and dust. I almost felt like I was in Varanasi again, not just because of the narrow lanes and population density, but also because of the abundance of cow dung and flies.
Prakash’s office is in Tigri Extension, an urban village where cars cannot enter the narrow “roads.” There is a small common area, which opens into another section that has two sofas, one computer, and one table. This is where I met Prakash for the first time and explained that I was simply curious to see what the life of a Delhi MLA is like these days. It was 10 AM on a Saturday morning and Prakash had coordinated with two Sectional Officers (SOs) of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) Horticulture Department. They were about to inspect the condition of the parks in his constituency and I was welcomed to tag along.
Over the next two and a half hours the team walked from park to park and inspected about 16 out of the 100 parks in Prakash’s constituency. Of the parks I saw, only one park in Tigri Extension was a success story. The rest suffered from a combination of problems: no grass, trashed by residents, rubble dumped from local construction work, encroachment, or manure from cows. Modi’s Swach Bharat Mission is yet to reach this part of the Capital. Most of these problems are because of the ineffectiveness of the MCD, which has been under BJP rule for the last seven years. Despite these ailments, each park had at least 10 children playing outdoor games our parents grew up playing: kancha (marbles), lattu (top-spin), and gulli-danda (a variation of cricket).
The condition of the parks was truly depressing, but the community was happy to see that their MLA was inspecting the progress on public work in the parks on a Saturday morning. Prakash asked why the MCD’s work was not progressing faster. The SOs explained the various inter-departmental and inter-agency coordination problems that were slowing down the work.
Governance of Parks
Parks fall under the jurisdiction of the MCD which has the sole authority to work on parks. But the MCD had allotted only 6 benches for 11 parks in the area. After consulting his constituents, Prakash had used his MLA Local Area Development (MLALAD) funds to order 500 benches for the 100 parks in his constituency, but for this work to begin a No Objection Certificate (N.O.C.) is required from the MCD. Moreover, while there is a horticulture department under the MCD, there is a horticulture department in the Delhi Jal (water) Board as well, and better coordination among the two was needed for the parks in the area to have a water supply that can sustain grass and other vegetation.
Normally, an MLA has considerable political power over government employees. If s/he is a member of the party in Government, then the powers are greater, but even an opposition MLA can at least raise his/her voice (individually or collectively through the opposition party) in the Assembly and request the Chief Minister to exert pressure on the relevant department to speed up work in his/her area. Such statements ultimately carry some political weight as they are covered in the media. However, due to Delhi’s Assembly being in a State of Suspended Animation, MLAs currently have only one mechanism to try to speed up the process: appeal to the Lieutenant Governor.
The desired end result for the parks is obvious and basic: grass, a track, benches, and some lighting. But this is no easy or quick task for Prakash to achieve for the reasons mentioned above. Meanwhile, it is the residents of these areas who suffer, as they do not get access to an outdoor, natural, community recreational space.
Success Story: A-Block Park in Tigri Extension
Everyday, 9-year old Akash* walks to a park about 300m away from his home, as the park just next to his building was a dump-yard. This short daily journey across congested narrow streets was a small price to pay for playing with friends in a park. Sadly, it took an unfortunate incident to mobilize a community to take the initiative to improve their surroundings.
One day, Akash got into an accident while crossing the street. Local residents informed his family just in time, but Akash wouldn’t have gotten into an accident if the park next to his building were well maintained in the first place!
23-year old Lalit* (Akash’s elder brother) and his friends decided to take matters into their own hands so that the children in the immediate area can play in the safety of their local park. “Prakash and I went to the same school, I knew he would support my initiative if anything went wrong,” Lalit said. They went door-to-door for the next two days and informed the residents of the 100 apartments in the area not to throw their trash into the park. Residents of the neighborhood often dispose of their rubbish in the nearest park due to the MCD’s ineffective waste collection system.
A significant number of the residents complied with Lalit’s requests, due to the close-knit nature of the community. However, some residents continued to toss their waste into the park. It was easy to track down who the culprits were, so for the next 10 days Lalit and his friends would pick up the trash and dump it into or in front of the unwilling neighbor’s home. The response to their angry “Yeh kya kar rahe ho tum!?” (What are you doing?) was a simple “Agar aap hamare park ko ganda kar sakte ho toh hum aapka ghar ko ganda kar sakte hain!” (If you can trash our park, then we can trash your home!).
This measure is extreme, but effective. Moreover, it did not cause any bodily harm. “Such tough love can only be implemented from within the community,” Prakash told me, “no Government employee or elected official can discipline the people this way.” As much as Modi or AAP would like India to be Swach, it is up to us to enforce cleanliness until it becomes a norm.
I went back on Sunday to interview Prakash for a few hours, during which he shared that his constituency’s biggest issue is water supply. Having addressed this issue for half of his constituency thus far is his proudest achievement, but he works tirelessly to ensure the rest of his constituency will have access to water over the next year. The road has not been smooth and Prakash even spent 10-days in jail for allegedly assaulting a Junior Engineer of the Delhi Jal Board.
Prakash comes from a very humble background. Today he has a Masters degree, had a job at an MNC, and for years him and his friends provided free tuitions to children in the neighborhood who could not afford quality academic help. His entry and success in politics would not have been possible under any other party.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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