go home ->//Mixing sounds from my neighborhood, a cool glitchy recording by Larry Wendt, my local kabaadiwalahs and an announcement on the EDMC website.
I've always been mildly interested in looking at trash, rubbish, tiny heaps of garbage outside their conventional journey from your garbage bin to the landfill or recycling facility. Not because i'm a raccoon. But because I find their juxtaposition with city spaces at least somewhat aesthetically interesting. Trash in a garbage bin is unremarkable. Trash dicarded in the verandah of an uninhabited decrepit house? Slightly more interesting. Trash that's an unusual assortment of materials next to manicured spaces? Very interesting. It usually presents itself on Delhi roads in varied forms. Ranging from the occasional solo discarded plastic cup to giant stinking heaps that have weirdly become their own biohazardous ecosystems that even government bodies refuse to touch now out of fear or disgust or a combination of the two. However, the forms in which i encounter it the most is in the occasional rubbish heap around my neighborhood which usually forms a pretty abstract collage of colors that i find pretty enough to take a picture of. By looking at localized trash on the road one can wonder about and form a rough idea of the general consumptive habits of some human around it. And then one can wonder about the organizational failure that led to the discovery of such trash in the first place - considering we all go to significant lengths to avoid being exposed to it visually and olfactorily. One is inclined to generally think that "some government body" will help achieve that objective in some nebulous way. Until one encounters failures in the mechanism at which point one is forced to investigate. After having wandered around delhi for the past month or two, something that I couldn't help but notice was that this city is not quite a coherent whole with a uniform character. It's vibrant, diverse and extremely lush in sounds, sights, smells, structures and people. Yet, when it comes to how public areas are "maintained", I can't help but notice four significant distinctions between the northern, southern, central and eastern regions of this city. Starting from my neighborhood in west delhi as a reference point I've discovered that central delhi and south delhi inhabit an entirely different world than north and east delhi in terms of the general cleanliness in any given area, the kind of amenities available in public spaces, the width and smoothness of roads, the amount of space on a pedestrian walkway (or even the presence of one), the size of parks, the degree to which older buildings have been preserved, the amount of maintenance that has gone in foot overbridges, the density and size of local markets, the extent to which residential areas have been planned, the spaces between each residence and lastly the size and kind of residences. In all these measures, south delhi seems to exist as a city unto itself by virtue of faring better in most of these metrics relative to the north and east. The same holds true for central delhi which is impeccably maintained since it contains all the federal buildings including the parliament, international embassies and housing for important politicians. But what gives? One usually refers to the city with a singular name - "Delhi", but it seems broadly divided in these fuzzy zones that are highly distinct in character from each other. I found some validation for my clustering of these spaces when I looked up the government body responsible for their maintenance: MCD: Municipal Corporation of Delhi. I recently discovered that it used to be a singular body up until 2011 after which it was trifurcated to manage the same three regions that I observed and suspected for being qualitatively distinct in their management - the north (NDMC), the south (SDMC) and the east (EDMC). The reasons for such a trifurcation are not obvious to me despite reading several news articles documenting this decision. There's a vague assertion about it making management easier but I'm not sure how such a partition helps. Something that also makes me curious is the partition of districts into these separate bodies and how revenue might be distributed among them. It turns out NDMC and EDMC are going bankrupt. SDMC is self sufficient. According to this source property tax is the biggest source of revenue for these bodies. And this is how it's calculated: Property tax = Rate of tax * Unit area value per sq metre x Unit area of property x Age factor x Use factor x Structure factor x Occupancy factor. It's quite undertandable to retrieve greater taxes from more expensive properties (because they take up a greater chunk from the available geographical space) and from commercial/rented properties. However, much depends on how these taxes are distributed and used. If their expenditure occurs only in their respective districts then one is bound to see uneven development across a city - the richer areas with bigger properties get better neighborhoods and consequently lead to property values in those neighborhoods rising even further, attracting richer people, leading ot more tax collection and expenditure. The poorer neighborhoods with lesser taxes collected get little work done (due to employees being on strike for nonpayment of their salaries) and consequently degrade and lead to a flight of those who do/can pay taxes leading to further deterioration in tax collection and neighborhood amenities. Would the MCD as a singular body have gone bankrupt before its trifurcation and was the revenue collected from each district part of a common pool with no differences in expenditure across district? Or was expenditure in public works just as heterogenous as it became post this trifurcation where the NDMC and EDMC are going bankrupt while the SDMC is self sufficient? What would your model of taxation for a public space be? How can a city that adds 1L automobiles to the road each year, not afford to pay have its trash taken out? Because Delhi as a city isn't a singular essential concept. IT is a singular bureaucratic concept when it comes to something like registering your number plate for your car. But when it comes to the niceness of public space you inhabit day in day out, it really is divided by the social organizational bodies that maintain it. Perhaps it's better to not romanticize this city as inherently beautiful and vibrant and gorgeous and speak more specifically about what features one is referring to and which political social regions they correspond to. For now, it seems evident that the failure of the north and east municipal corporations unable to acquire the amount of tax they need will provide some impetus that leads to their privatisation - something that few state bodies are immune to these days. ---- PS: The quirky early 2000s era websites of NDMC, EDMC and SDMC PS2: The longest serving councillor for MCD: Guru Radha Kishan has an overly fawning wikipedia page PS3: Some cool older photos around major events in "Delhi" from the past PS4: Some snippets and interviews of people remembering delhi from last century PS5: A short film by the state with older snippets of the nicer gentrified areas of delhi PS6: A cute short film by the state on the Delhi Milk Scheme with more older scenes