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For Patna being the dirtiest in India, the blame is on all—from Lalu Yadav to Nitish Kumar

Beyond political blame and jibes, the news of Patna’s ranking has more or less sunk without much of an informed debate among policy makers or the media in Bihar.

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For those living in Patna, the news that the city has been declared the dirtiest in India by the Narendra Modi government’s latest annual cleanliness survey comes as no surprise. We all know that the city is like living hell.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav tweeted about this, taking a political jibe at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. His son Tejashwi Yadav also quipped that it was “good to see Patna become number one at least in something in the last 15 years”. Lok Janshakti Party President Chirag Paswan also asked Nitish Kumar for an answer.

But beyond political blame and jibes, the news of the ranking has more or less sunk without much of an informed debate among policy makers or the media. The latter, of course, is busy with issues like Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide.

In July 2018, a division bench of the Patna High Court, headed by Justice Ajay Kumar Tripathi and Justice Nilu Agarwal had said that “funds meant for the development of Patna were being pilfered openly, despite order after order from courts for the past 20 years”. The recent ranking of cities by the Urban Development Ministry merely reiterates this sad reality.

But is the political leadership bothered? Elections and political power are captured not based on performance, but on social engineering and emotional slogans extraneous to lives of people — MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination, backward vs most backward, Dalit vs most Dalit, Hindu vs Muslim, Ram Mandir, Article 370 etc. Issues of health, education, or civic amenities are not even casually discussed. Bihar was the most apathetic state towards its students stranded in Kota or its migrant labourers in different states when the coronavirus pandemic struck and lockdown was announced. However, these are not relevant issues in the Assembly elections due in November. How is the state, reeling under the twin fury of Coronavirus and floods, suitable for elections?

In Bihar, transfer posting of officers is seldom based on merit or competence. It has kept the bureaucrats busy ingratiating themselves with power brokers, rather than doing their job. They know that as long as the big bosses are happy, their cosy assignments are safe. In the case of Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC), the average duration of Municipal Commissioner’s term is one year or less. On 13 July 2013, the Patna High Court passed an order that in the interest of continuity and answerability the Municipal Commissioner of Patna should not be transferred without its consent. The state government challenged this order in the Supreme Court, which refused to interfere with the High Court’s order. The court was monitoring an anti-encroachment drive launched by Patna Municipal Commissioner Kuldeep Narayan against the building mafia headed by bahubali MLA Anant Singh. Kuldeep Narayan was suspended on 5 December 2014, which was stayed by the high court on 15 December.

Also read: From dumping grounds to golf courses — how Indore became India’s cleanest city

Nightmarish waterlogging of 2019

“The climate is changing and this heavy rainfall is due to the Hathiya Nakshatra. Such rainfall is common during Hathiya,” explained Nitish Kumar, the ‘Shushan Babu’, to the press, shifting the blame for poor management of floods on to nature. Last year’s waterlogging in Patna, after incessant rains, is a telling example of manmade disaster, abetted by a non-existent municipal corporation and corrupt urban development authorities. What else can explain the flooding of planned localities such as Rajendra Nagar and Kankarbagh, where lakhs of residents were stranded, many on their roofs without food, water, and electricity?

The absence of a good garbage disposal system had its own share in last year’s misery as plastic waste clogged the city’s drains, leading to lower discharge of rain water from these areas. It took more than a fortnight for the PMC to pump out the water from these localities. As many as 38 out of the 39 sump houses in the Patna Municipal Area were non-functional right in the middle of the crisis. Aninal carcasses could be seen floating across Patna, raising concerns of a health crisis. Fifty-five people lost their lives, leaving the city gripped in fear of disease spread.

In yet another attempt to deflect the responsibility from his government’s shoulders, Nitish Kumar said that when waterlogging happens in Mumbai and US cities, no one is bothered enough to raise questions. But ‘Mr. Good Governance’ needs to know that unlike Mumbai and America, waterlogged Patna is living evidence of his own 15 years of ‘urban development’ that has resulted in no good for Bihar’s capital, except unplanned concretisation.

Although the city’s saucer-shaped topography is also to be blamed for flooding as a modest spell of showers leads to waterlogging, it is a fact that Patna hasn’t seen the development of any major drain network since 1968. The British-era drainage system, which is spread over a small portion of the state capital, has become obsolete and discharge of sewage into storm water only makes things worse for the residents.

Also read: BJP-JDU back to harping on Lalu’s Gabbar image & Jungle Raj but it’s unlikely to work in 2020


Well begun but lost midway

Planned development of Patna started in 1912 after creation of the new state of Bihar. The task was entrusted to famous architect of the British Empire, Joseph Munnings, who designed some of the architectural splendours of Patna such as the Secretariat, Raj Bhawan, Patna High Court, GPO and Patna Museum. The construction of all these landmark buildings was completed between 1912 and 1917. The site for the new capital, christened the New Capital Area (informally New Patna), was chosen 1912 just west of the Bankipore railway station (old Patna railway station) and the new area was laid out in a planned manner by chief architect Munnings.

After Independence, Bihar started on the right track. In the 1950s, Bihar was the next best administered state in the country after the Bombay State and Patna’s planned development was also in sync with the state’s overall direction. Patna Improvement Trust, later known as PRDA, which was merged with PMC, developed well-planned colonies such as Rajendra Nagar and South Sri Krishna Puri. Bihar State Housing Board developed Bahadurpur, Kankerbagh (Asia’s largest planned residential colony) and Sri Krishna Nagar.

Also read: In poll year, Nitish is already under fire for Covid handling, now he has to tackle floods

The bottlenecks

Why in his 15-year rule did Nitish Kumar never thought about planned development of Patna? The answer lies is his politics—planned development will involve land acquisition and that may annoy some of his supporters. Thanks to the state’s politics where caste equations matter over development and governance, the harsh reality of Patna’s creaking urban infrastructure may not become an issue for ‘Mr Good Governance’. 

For any systematic and planned growth, urban infrastructure is provided first and then the residential houses are built. This aspect is completely lacking with regard to Patna’s urban agglomeration. Hence, most residential areas suffer from a near-absent civic infrastructure.

For a city of 20 lakh people, which generates 700 tonnes of solid waste, Patna doesn’t have an efficient solid waste management system in place. In many localities, people dump garbage on roads or on vacant sites, which is subsequently collected by the PMC staff. The PMC, too, lacks required equipment to handle solid waste. Lack of infrastructure, unavailability of dumping space and staff shortage at the PMC have only made matters worse. In Patna, garbage dumped in low-lying areas or by the side of ring road is a common sight.

Patna has a plan for a new sewage network, but given the track record of the Nitish Kumar government, it may remain a pipedream. Years of waste discharge in the Ganga continues to pollute the river too.

Patna’s population has seen a huge rise, especially in the last two decades. Between 1981 and 1991, the increase was 25.5 per cent, whereas in the 1991-2001 period the rise was 58.1 per cent. In urban agglomeration areas such as Khagaul, Danapur and Phulwari Sharif, the population increase was nearly 86.5 per cent. However, the city didn’t expand in a similar ratio, leading to high population density. Patna has approximately 43,840 residents per square mile.

Drinking water supply is another area of concern. The PMC station pumps ensure that each resident in Patna gets at least 150 litre of water per day. As per an estimate, PMC borewells are extracting about 375 million litres of water per day. However, officials admit, about 45 per cent of the water is lost in the transit due to leakage. Also, only about 60 per cent of localities in the state capital are networked. The remaining areas depend heavily on groundwater extraction where supply is free. This further adds to wastage as whatever is free has no or little value in the eyes of the consumers.

The author is a retired IAS officer, who served as principal secretary in the urban development department, vice-chairman of Patna Regional Development Authority and chairman of Bihar Housing Board. Views are personal.

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  1. Well Not only Patna but two areas of Delhi ( east and north) which consists majority of biharis are among dirtiest cities.second one is Chennai.
    So all those who are barking against government,check that survey out.
    All those 90s born remember those days when walking out after 7-8 pm wasn’t considered normal. Ask your dad/uncle those from rural areas and having hero honda and riding it after 4 pm was a big threat.
    Nitish Kumar is not a god.and what he did is far better than Lalu.

  2. This article is a waste of space. It carefully ignores the upper caste vote bank in the caste based politics in the State.
    The article also ignores the fact that most of the Urban Local Bodies in the State, including Patna, have the political control of a specific political party from a very long time.
    It also ignores the fact that the Urban Development Department is in control of a political party from time immemorial.
    With so many heads under one control which includes the media, when one shifts blame to previous administrators, it is understandable. Anyway, Great work , Sir. We now fairly understand that what ails this city. By the way, thanks for the historical tour of Patna. We would love to know about Azeemabad, Patliputra phases of history also, Sir.

  3. The underlying issue probably is that Biharis think their karma is to breed profligately and that feeding them is the responsibility of rest of India 😋

  4. just being curious. you having held such important administrative positions surely could have done something. What were your constraints?

  5. its not only a Patna all Bihar town are a living hell. Bihar government speak a blanket lies on everything, only few days back Nitish said their govt replace all old electric wire in an entire village or town by end of December 2019 this is a complete lie I will give you the village name with details where we have a wire on electric pole for last 40 years. Hardly you will have a full voltage to run any household home appliances.

  6. Sir, you enumerated caste based and religious based combinations but the role of the so-called upper castes of the society was ignored. However,one may visit any urban area however small or big, the most of the elected representatives of the Urban Local Bodies belong to one particular political party. And, apart from that, the Department of Urban Development in the State is controlled by them. So, when the intelligentsia of the State will continue to deflect the blame, we may keep on lamenting Lalu, Nehru or even the Britishers, things will gradually become worse.
    Also, you rightly pointed the role and responsibility of the media. The people working in the media have lost their collective conscience. They have become courtiers in the Kings’ durbar.
    The residents of the city will have to change the representatives who rule over them.
    But chances for that are not bright as when I went to vote in the last local body election very few people were there.

  7. Most Indian cities are hell holes. Indians procreate incessantly so that their children can also experience hell.

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