Monday, December 26, 2011

Garbage raises a stink for State

by C. Gouridasan Nair
Stand-off in capital city between two local States
Government's role is that of an arbiter

The stand-off between the Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation and the Vilappil village panchayat over the disposal of tonnes of solid waste being generated daily by the capital city in the panchayat is perhaps the first sign of the frictions that are waiting to surface in the State in the sphere of local governance.

Hitherto, the frictions between the governing and the governed have mostly been over attempts by the former to encroach into the common property resources and private property holdings for meeting what are described as the larger development needs. The struggle against the Silent Valley hydel project in the dying years of the 1970s, the recent agitations over land acquisition for various infrastructure and industrial projects and the still alive stand-off between the local population and the State government over the Athirappilly hydel project are all instances of the way the larger State has come into conflict with local populations over their respective rights over the common resource pool of the people.

However, the current stand-off in the capital district between two local States — one a municipal corporation with superior resources and the other a village panchayat with nothing but solidarity of the masses giving it strength — is a different story altogether. Here the State government's role is that of an arbiter between the two warring local States, one claiming a right to treat the other as its backyard where it could dump its waste and the other asserting its right of refusal. The trouble perhaps lay in the State government's failure so far to gauge the worsening public mood in the panchayat and the city Corporation's failure to create its waste management infrastructure.

But, if looked at closely, it would become clear that this is not just about solid waste disposal or about a quarrel between a municipal corporation and a village panchayat. The issue is far more complex and should bring into focus issues of inter-State relations at the local level, which should ideally be based on principles of equality and fair play. For Kerala, decentralisation has been as much a learning process as a development initiative. When the efforts for deepening democracy were under discussion and initial implementation, the focus was on cooperation between the local self-government institutions. The block panchayat was in a way conceived as an official framework for cooperation in development planning and execution. However, the present stalemate involving the capital city and its suburban panchayat goes to show that relations between two local States cannot always be based on cooperation and perhaps that there is need for a new grammar of federalism at the grassroots.

The message appears to be that the time has come for policy planners and administrators to work out a new framework of local governance where the voice of every local State carries the same weight.

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