Shillong city: one of the dirtiest in India



By RV Warjri


Sometime ago, the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India announced the list of the cleanest and the dirtiest cities in India. Under the less than 10 lakh population category, Shillong featured as the 6th dirtiest city. The survey was conducted under the Swachh Survekshan 2020 which is part of the Swachh Bharat movement.  The survey focused on collection of segregated waste and maintenance till the processing site besides treatment and reuse of wastewater, curtailing solid waste – based air pollution, among other criteria.


Indore has been voted the cleanest city for the fifth successive year. Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager for waste management at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi said Indore succeeded, “Due to political and administrative will …. The city has resolved about 90% of its solid waste challenge.” Indore succeeded by adopting the Seven habits and Four formulae. It includes, everyday garbage disposal; Garbage to Compost; Discouraging use of polythene; Dustbin on wheels; Awareness among children who are also made brand ambassadors under the Four formulae.


Civic governance of Shillong the capital city as I understand has two broad areas: Muncipal areas and non-Municipal areas. The Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) website says that its main activities are to provide basic services:  Solid waste and sanitation management; Maintenance and management of water supply and Street lighting etc. The website also mentioned that for urban infrastructure and service delivery Shillong city as a whole also comes under the Urban Affairs Department, Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA), Public Health Department; Public Works Department; Meghalaya Electricity Corporation Ltd (MeECL).


Further, the SMB website also says that the Khasi Hills District Council (KHADC) upholds tradition and customary laws, constitutes Town Committees and manages markets. It also added that, “the KHADC has not constituted Town Committees within GSPA. Their presence in GSPA is not noticeable”. GSPA stands for Global Strategy and Plan of Action on public health, innovation and intellectual property under the World Health Organization (WHO). It also says that the Traditional Institutions ensure peace, resolve disputes and work for the well being of the people in accordance with the tradition and customary laws besides development works within its jurisdiction. The Meghalaya Municipal Act 1973, Chapter III is about Constitution of Municipal Boards, by a body of Commissioners who are elected. The History column on the website talks about the 27 Wards. It says nothing about elections of Ward Commissioners.   


The website of the Urban Affairs Department talks about several schemes and programmes: State Urban Infrastructure Development Initiative Programme (S.U.I.D.I.P.); Environmental Improvement of Urban Slum (E.I.U.S.); North Eastern Region Capital Cities Development Investment Projects (N.E.R.C.C.D.I.P.). The programme also concerns Consulting Services for (i) design, supervision and management of Infrastructure Projects and (ii) Capacity Building and Institutional Reforms; and Development of an emergency short term Sanitary Landfill at Marten, Shillong.  Then there is the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (J.N.N.U.R.M.): Swachh Bharat Mission; Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission.


The website of the KHADC says, “Of late, there have been serious debates about introduction of Panchayati Raj system in the ADCs …….In conclusion..The ADCs of Meghalaya have been excluded from Panchayati Raj Act 1993 under Article 243”.


So what then are the problems with civic governance in Shillong City?

i) Given the limitations, the SMB has been doing a sterling job. Its basic problem is financial resource. The root cause being that the election of Commissioners to the Board has not been held for more than 40 years which is a major criterion for eligibility for receiving funds for civic governance by local bodies from the Central Government that is for areas under the Municipality.


ii) Looking at the elaborate role mentioned between the SMB, the Urban Affairs Department and the several agencies under it and also the KHADC  , Shillong city should be the number one city in India in terms of civic management considering that several schemes also come from the central government from time to time.  On the contrary, the multiplicity of agencies that govern Shillong City have instead proved to be counter-productive.  Multiplicity of agencies means lack of cohesiveness in action. On the other hand there is more of turf fight; sense of fiefdom; ego problems; personality clashes; multiple layers of toxic vested interests and what have you.


iii) Like the SMB, similar is the case with the traditional institutions or Dorbar Shnongs. Their proactive role particularly during the current pandemic has been remarkable. The larger question however, is, that they are not equipped enough to deal with the growing and multiplying problems of civic  governance which include pressure of population, housing construction, sanitation, waste disposal, hygiene and the overall health management, etc. And the most difficult part is to sensitise and enforce regulations on the public about littering and spitting shamelessly everywhere. The current Covid 19 pandemic should be a wake-up call.

iv) Non-municipal areas suffer even more because there is no single agency with a defined authority and accountability. The Dorbar Shnong also functions on the basis of volunteerism and adhoc-ism. There is no semblance of clarity nor certainty about financial resources, wherewithal and paraphernalia like the SMB, whereas the task itself demands a full time commitment.   


v) There is no supervision of any kind about the quality of constructions in consonance with safety requirements relating to earthquakes etc. No supervision relating to construction of septic tanks, soak pits etc. Walking on foot on the main road, lanes and by-lanes means one has to suffer the stench that emanates from overflowing septic tanks coming out of residences along the way everywhere. 


Suggestions for solutions i)  In Municipal areas elections of commissioners has to take place at the earliest so that the funds due from the central government can flow without any impediment.


ii) For non-Municipal areas the State Government and the KHADC have to make up their minds.  If Dorbar Shnongs have to conduct civic governance so be it. Institutional reforms have to take place to empower them accordingly with defined authority and accountability.


iii) Just look at the funding to other local bodies in India. Panchayats receive funds from three sources: Local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission; funds for implementation of centrally sponsored schemes and funds released by the State governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions. In the case of Meghalaya it has chosen self deprivation. Does it make sense? Some psychiatric treatment is called for here!


iv) One cannot live in the 21st century with 18th century laws and institutions, especially when there is a drive towards Smart Cities. Living with modern amenities which includes space and path for jogging and cycling is the aspiration of every citizen.  

v)  Cohesiveness of action depends on the clarity of the institutional structure.  New York City is the most cosmopolitan metro in the world because among other things it is the head quarters of the United Nations. All activities pertaining to governance of the city comes solely under the Mayor who is elected every four years.  

vi)  A word about the role of civil society, groups and individuals who have been passionate to revive the pristine name of Shillong.  Lately, Operation Clean-Up which started under the banner of the Shillong Times Platinum Jubilee last year; Team Jiva under Jivat Vaswani ( City Hut Dhaba) ; Project Clean Surrounding under Jefferson Kynjing and many other groups led by dynamic youth  have been trying to do their part.  

vii) The bottom line however lies on reforms. Like Indore the State Government has to demonstrate some political will. If no reforms of any kind   take place, then in no time we should be prepared to hear that Shillong will qualify instead to be called SHITlong !


(Email: [email protected])

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