MCD polls: In Delhi’s affluent colonies, a mix of civic, voter apathy

Residents of Panchsheel Park pay the highest rate of property tax in the Capital, at par with just 16 other neighbourhoods in the city. Even then, people who live in the south Delhi colony face some fundamental challenges — they have little space to park vehicles, several pavements are overrun by encroachments, and the once vibrant local market has fallen prey to mushrooming commercial units.

To make matters worse, civic services in the area are abject, complain residents, contrary to popular perception. Often, even the basics — lifting garbage or watering parks — are arranged by the residents themselves.

“The RWA (resident’s welfare association) has been lifting garbage using its own funds, much in the same way that we are responsible for watering our own parks. The MCD has been struggling to water them over the last few month,” a resident of Block N in Panchsheel Park said, noting that the civic body does send trucks to pick up waste, but that residents find this a more efficient way to ensure that no waste is left behind.

And yet, what a large number of residents of Panchsheel Park are unlikely to do is vote in the upcoming civic elections, mirroring the story across several such affluent colonies in the city.

Voters in Delhi will elect 250 councillors to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on December 4, and their votes will be counted on December 7.

Delhi’s affluent neighbourhoods, several of which are concentrated in south and New Delhi (which has its own municipal council), usually record lower voter turnouts in the civic polls. In the 2017 MCD polls, areas under the erstwhile south Delhi civic body saw a 51.59% turnout, compared to 54.08% in those under the North body and 56.08% East Delhi. Similarly, in the 2012 polls, North and East registered 53.37% and 55.56% turnouts, in comparison to 52.14% in South Delhi.

Within South Delhi….

The easiest link to most draw is that the turnouts are low because the civic situation doesn’t necessitate a vote. But, like in Panchsheel Park, this just isn’t the case, said residents of Delhi’s most affluent neighbourhoods.

Encroachments, illegally parked vehicles, stray cattle, endless constructions, dumpsters and open garbage punctuate most streets and footpaths, even as water shortages hit most households in these areas in summer.

Colonies in Delhi are categorised in slabs from A to H, based on the state of the infrastructure and amenities in the area. Localities like Sunder Nagar and Vasant Vihar fall under category ‘A’, while unplanned colonies such as Dakshinpuri and Dashrathpuri are at other end of the spectrum.

The categorisation of a colony further depends on factors like the capital value of land, the age of the colony, the physical infrastructure, its proximity to commercial centres, and the economic status of the residents.

Under the current property tax calculation matrix, the MCD uses six factors to calculate the annual value of a property — the total covered area, the unit area value ( ₹ per sq m) which depends on the category of the colony, the age of the property, and the occupancy, structural and use factors. This value is multiplied with the property tax rate to arrive at the annual property tax.

The resident welfare association (RWAs) in most of these areas play vital roles, even supplanting the local councillor or MLA and acting as the sole point of contact for most residents who need work done.

One reason is that the lack of change on the ground. “While some councillors in the past have done well, we have generally seen that they are not that interested in bringing about change. Even the funds they have are often not spent on solving local problems such as potholes, and one has to constantly chase them. Instead, the RWA is more accessible and accountable,” said a Defence Colony resident, asking not to be named.

Another key reason is that these RWAs are flush with cash, owing to the funds generated within the neighbourhood itself.

For instance, in Vasant Vihar, residents say encroachments have eaten up pavements, with the civic body failing to strip the footpaths of illegally built ramps and guard cabins for months, forcing the Delhi high court to step in earlier this. But other encroachments continue to make life difficult for pedestrians.

“There are fruit sellers, vegetable vendors, chaat sellers all operating from within colony lanes and they are gradually expanding and trying to become a permanent fixture. The MCD should remove them too as they are just as illegal as the ramps outside homes,” said Parul Gaur, a resident from Vasant Vihar’s A block. This, said Gaur, largely negates efforts made to segregate waste.

Viraj Sharma, a resident of Vasant Vihar’s A street, said most people were keen on segregating waste, but instead, this was being mixed and taken to the nearby dhalao to be segregated there. “This defeats the purpose of segregation at source,” he said.

The civic body has also been unable to get rid of stray animals, who feed at the many dumpsters near the entrance to several such colonies, said residents.

“While dhalaos (dumping spots)] are being closed everywhere in Delhi, they continue to function here in Vasant Vihar. During the day, multiple cattle and stray dogs can be found eating at these spots,” she said.

Parking too is an issue in most of these neighbourhoods, despite some having a wide access road. Simi Arora, a resident of Panchsheel Park, said most houses have multiple cars, which then end up being parked outside, leaving very little room to move. “There are hospitals, schools and salons in the colony and when people come there, they park outside houses, which anyway have a limited space for their own cars,” she says.

In Defence Colony too, parking is a major pain point, especially because lanes in the colony lanes are key access points for busy Ring Road.

“Most residents prefer walking if they have to get somewhere relatively close, instead of taking a car as there is no space to park it. Walking too is becoming difficult over time as people have extended ramps and the spaces outside houses either have cars parked, or flower pots,” said Rajeev Suri, a resident of D block, adding that the civic body pays little attention to the parks in the neighbourhood.

A senior municipal official said that the planned affluent colonies in Delhi have relatively much better infrastructure and level of services in upscale colonies is under much more scrutiny due to proactive RWAs. “Regular meetings of officials are also held with the Reisident Welfare Associations to sort out the problems at the field level,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

EXPERT QUOTE ON VOTER TURNOUTS IN UPSCALE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Anuj Bakshi, executive committee member of Defence Colony’s D block RWA, feels that low-voter turnouts are sometimes a result of the lack of trust in candidates, owing to very little money being re-invested in services on the ground. “I personally know of a road that took 5 years to be tarmacked. In a lot of cases, the willpower to enforce changes is lacking. While a lot of residents are willing to segregate waste, that too has not been enforced yet by the MCD,” he said.

(One more resident quote on turnouts)

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