Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This Monsoon, Confer

After a series of construction-induced slips and slides in Gangtok some years ago, the UD&HD had notified that construction works be halted during monsoons. This suspension of construction works was rigidly followed for some years, but appears to have been eased of late. That said, the ban on construction during monsoons was always a short-term measure that Sikkim had been taking for the last more than one decade; it is time that its officers prescribed and monitored the construction habits better. That will make the town safer than a row of incomplete construction sites awaiting the dry winters.
Admittedly, the original ban was necessitated by the obvious dangers of excavation works during monsoons and also the roadside dumping of construction material which would get washed away with overnight downpours, clogging drains and adding dangerous volume to surface runoff. While construction material appears to be more responsibly managed nowadays, most of Gangtok is already built-up to leave any more spaces for excavation. So maybe a blanket ban is not an urgent requirement, but one could still be notified and relaxations considered on case to case basis. This comment is not to promote unbridled constructions, but a suggestion that Sikkim, especially its more urban locations, start discussing monsoon worries in a more engaged manner. A ban closes all discussions, whereas the laying of specific conditions opens dialogue. And the capital and other towns of Sikkim could do with some conversations when it comes to policy framing and decision-making. Since almost all the representatives were elected unopposed, they have rarely shown any interest in communicating with the people. The urban bodies will be going to polls in the not very distant future and it is unlikely that uncontested sweeps will return; a contest will require winning favour and there is no better way to win the people than hearing them out and taking them into confidence. The monsoons open such an opportunity because the surface runoff, poor drainage and the problem of too much water in the drains and too less in the taps is a common situation of all urban dwellers. Including them in deliberations on how to address the situation and manage the problems will make them feel more empowered and less ignored.

Such an environment is a good place to be for the cold calculations of politics, but more than that, it’s a healthy progression for democracy. This is how things should have always been when it comes to urban planning and now that the arrival of monsoons has created an opportunity, it should be explored. The urban representations should invited feedback and suggestions from the residents on the monsoon-related problems being faced by them and possible solutions. Neighbourhood meetings could be called and one would be surprised at how easy solutions for some vexed civic problems can be. And the towns could do with some collaborative efforts given the anxious unease that appears to have settled in after the elections. 

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