Towards the last few days of 2014 I found myself sitting through what seems to be a standard (excruciating) discussion on any progressive waste management project. I was left pondering about a number of aspects. It will be 20 years now that I have been pursuing the issue of better waste management for Mumbai and after pursuing 20 years of idealism and do good-ism still going through some same trials and tribulations and challenges made me ponder about what really is going on.
Here I am sitting with absolute crystal clarity about how to go about the project with a clear idea of how much effort the municipal corporation should be putting in along with creating a budget and hiring the right people et all and all that I get to hear is how one should be twisting and turning the project to avoid back lash from vested interests well entrenched in the corporation who would not like to see waste reduction at source happening or even feel threatened for a perceived change in power structure.
Beyond a point the conversation made me realise how in the same period that I have been stubbornly, consistently and almost foolishly desiring to do good for the cities environment (through SWM being one of them), to achieve multiple goals of
- Better utilisation of the tax payers money,
- of reduced use of fossil fuels in unnecessarily following a pick and dump method for (mis)managing waste,
- of reducing the foreign exchange burden from running trucks on imported fossil fuels,
- of reducing congestion on the roads from unnecessary trucks trips,
- of reducing air pollution from the movement of the trucks and also the burning of waste on dumping grounds,
- off reduced green house gases from all of the above
During this same time there is another set of people whose behaviour has also been very consistent and they have a far greater success rate to show than it seems I ever will. People who may or may not have a desire to do good – to achieve the above goals – but most certainly have a consistent desire to amass more and more power and wealth. This is the politicians of Mumbai. Some of them are MPs, some MLAs, others Councillors with ambitions of becoming MLAs and MPs.
Beyond a point almost everybody on my side of the table has had the same foolish behaviour and faces the same fate.
Any politician who has been associated with the municipal corporation and more specifically with the solid waste management issue since last two decades or more or even a lot less has seen a consistent rise in his career (I cant think of a her) over this time period. Activists and the do-gooders still have the same struggling conversations of how to generate resources for even small pilots. During the same time any counterpart politician has seen himself lord over ever increasing budgets of the municipal corporation, with no shortage of opportunities to create contracts and deals to fill their coffers and be able to generate funds for their rise up the power ladder, from being powerful as a Councillor to MLA to MP. Being able to create the necessary funds and infrastructure to have office and staff and communication and travel and more budgets. All resources that the do-gooders have not been able to ever generate any funds for; you can find them still having the same frustrating conversations about finding one full time person and a desk and a cupboard to store material and of families who are fed up with their pursuits.
Those desirous of being in power do not have to go about begging for funds and donations. They have large hearted people willing to fund them or they have become experts at extracting money at knife point. The same industry or business person, who will torture a do-gooder for making a donation will willingly pay up to a threatening politician. After being in power the politician has access to vast reserves of public money, which is also like the public willing to write a cheque to them.
On the worst affected end of the spectrum you have do-gooders who decided to get into the business end and ended up destroying their wealth completely. None of the politicians and IAS officers and other officials who fudged contracts, lied through their teeth (even in courts on oath), cheated and bribed and worse find themselves in the same fate. They are more powerful and wealthy and even if affected in some cases not destroyed.
Another very consistent behaviour pattern has been of the educated middle class of the city – possibly even more determined than the do-gooders or the politicians, to exhibit almost pathological levels of indifference and complete mastery to justify the same. I am very clear that the behaviour of the middle class creates the base on which politicians build their castles and the do-gooders scuffle around in their shanties.
There will never be a Swaccha Bharat in a country where the atma is so aswaccha. Desiring to do good for the country never pays, desiring to be in power (on the message of doing good) almost certainly does. Please do leave in the comments section all your wonderful excuses of being so pathologically indifferent and uninvolved.