Jose “Cole” Abasolo
This project was initiated during the Urban Typhoon Khirkee (Nov 9-16) by members of URBZ, KHOJ and independent participants. It looks at ways to rebuild the road in front of KHOJ in a sustainable way, while involving the residents and stakeholders.
Interaction during the final day presentation.
1. Road & Water crisis
3. Moving Ahead
5. Action plan
1. Road & Water crisis
Khirkee Extension, August 2010 (Photo: KHOJ)
Civic facilities like water, electricity and sewage came very late in the day, almost towards the latter half of the 1990s. Residents had already got used to ad hoc connections and retrofitting of infrastructure but without any confidence or coordination. As a result, homes have water connections installed all over the streets, the sewage pipe laid a few years ago is inadequate and not well laid out. All of this got compounded when the Municipal Corporation of Delhi broke the sewage connection linking the pipes to the main grid and hastily fitted it back but with the alignment all wrong.
Ever since, the roads in Khirkee extension are logged with sewage water at the tiniest of showers causing all kinds of health crisis for the residents. Rainwater drains have been cemented over, a rainwater pit has been filled up and cemented. The habit of clogging drains with rubble and harsh dry garbage have inevitably compounded the problems many times over.
In the past 10 years the road has been redone and destroyed 4 or 5 times. We tried to understand why. It is clearly not just a technical issue. The road could never be repaired and maintained without the active support and involvement of the people living alongside it. The people themselves are a widely diverse lot. They are mostly tenants or new residents who have moved into flats built hurriedly by builders making a quick buck. There are few landlords who have made some attempts to improve the situation and seem ready to come together to rebuild the road but are not necessarily willing to explore long-term solutions to the water and drainage issues.
The road issue is linked to the water system. The pipes under the road are completely plugged during the rainy season and used water comes back up to the surface and inundates the road. Last July-August going to the KHOJ office meant walking through sewage. The shopkeepers were particularly affected since no business could happen. The stagnant sewage water became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The three queens: Malaria, Chikungunya and Dengue are endemic in Khirkee. Many people told us how they had been sick for long stretches of time, including colleagues at KHOJ.
Historically, the water problem emerged with water pumps, which suddenly meant that more water was getting consumed and that evacuation had to be organized more systematically. Masterji, an elderly resident who knows Khirkee since pre-independence days said that before water pipes and pumps were installed no drainage system was needed. Consumption of water and the waste generated was of a lower intensity and quality.
Khirkee, being an “unauthorized colony”, the authorities are not taking any responsibility regarding the water system. Whatever exists now has been built by groups of residents (it is a user-generated water-system of sorts). The water comes from the municipality but the pipes have been installed locally. Since then many new 6 to 7 stories-high buildings have emerged along the road, substantially increasing water consumption. The existing sewage pipes, which were laid down fifteen odd years ago, have become too small to take the load produced by the new high-rises. To add to the problem all kinds of plastic waste and rubble that is thrown on the streets ends its journey in the pipes which block it further.
Since the pipes are below the ground they are much harder to clean. To clean them someone must go below the road through a manhole and manually remove some of the junk plugging the pipe. The rest is pumped out by a machine. However, according to some of the residents, trying to unplug the blocks in the sewage with high pressure pumps may cause pipes to burst.
There are several suggestions being made which we will factor in our research and action: to retrace the water flows through older well systems and use them to absorb rain and storm waters, thus easing the pressure on the sewage and other systems; having regular clean ups of the sewage, plugging the points of entry of dry and rough garbage so that systems do not get clogged, so on and so forth.
During the Urban Typhoon workshop, we recorded testimonies from the street residents about the road and water issues. We asked them for specific solutions and ways to maintain the street. In the process we have collected invaluable knowledge that should inform any new road project. Here are some quotations from the people we interviewed.
“The road was built 4 times in 15 years and it has been raised to 5 feet.”
“Electricity is being put underground… They will come back again and dig the road to install the cables.”
“Not everyone in the neighbourhood has a regular water and electricity line and will continue to destroy the road to build their line and connection.”
“Just yesterday someone fixed a new water connection.”
“Trucks cant be stopped… there are businesses…”
“My tube well is poisonous.”
“Sewer was blocked in the DDA grounds where the parking is done… And then the rubble was put in it and that’s how the choking took place.”
“Now builders dump their rubble in the drains and pipes…”
“We have to do things on our own.”
“Everyone must sit together… Many of us are willing to do it ourselves…”
“Everyone must contribute according to their capacity and financial strength.”
“Economic cooperation was done in the past.”
“The landlord is important. He has to take the responsibility.”
“Tenants are too poor… Landlords uninterested.”
“Help us all becoming civically responsible.”
“We must know each other’s neighbours.”
“Collectively appoint a sweeper… and cleaner”
“Sewage line is shared with the mall. But the main pipe is higher then ours, that’s why ours gets logged.”
“Road should be made after the drainage system is organized.”
“Water clogging has always been there. Sewage is overloaded.”
“My water comes from Jamna Vihar pipeline.”
“People must stop throwing garbage.”
“Earlier the water used to drain into the soil… but now they have put rubble and mud and stopped its porosity.”
“We must revive a soak pit near the temple…”
“We can use the old tube wells to absorb rainwater… they are very deep.”
“We could raise the road and then make a slope.”
“We have to redo the manhole.”
“Water and Drainage must be separate.”
“Sewage must be attached to the main sewage pipeline.”
“Now there is no place for a rainwater soak pit. The one Pradeep had made is plugged.”
“If we clean storm water drains then many problems will be solved.”
“One must use existing manholes to separate water and drainage.”
“You cannot put a new sewer. Its too costly.”
3. Moving Ahead
The memory of the “failure” of earlier attempts to improve the roads cast a thick shadow over the existing post-monsoon crisis and acted as a huge discouragement to all those making attempts at improving the situation. In the earlier cases, the newly done up roads were dug up by shoddy official jobs to relay pipes, individual water connections or in one case, stealing of tiles and blocks that made up the road. Today the direct stakeholders are the residents (tenants and owners), landlords and business owners and renters along the streets.
At first sight, the level of discouragement is palpable in the street. An attempt at gathering a community meeting on the road and water issues during the Urban Typhoon workshop miserably failed as no one showed up. However, as the workshop went on, we realized that the failure was not to blame on what appeared to be an exceedingly high level of apathy. The meeting was conveyed on a Monday at 10AM in the morning, a time when shopkeepers are busy starting the day. It may have sent the message that the meeting was actually not aimed at them but at the landlords who can afford to spend time in such a meeting. The form of the “meeting” itself is not ideal to bring together residents and shopkeepers, who anyway are in a precarious situation and do not feel they have a strong voice. The final presentation of the workshop, which was held in the street and throughout the evening saw massive amount of people gathering in front of a map of the road. People started writing on the map and many have said that they would like to participate in the project.
In many ways, this moment is our starting point for a longer project, which will be multifaceted. Issues of community participation and collective maintenance of road and water system are deeply enmeshed with technical and financial issues. Technical questions of the sewage and water management are difficult to resolve, especially as they are compounded by official apathy by evoking the unauthorized status of the neighbourhood. Finance is clearly an issue as it always tends to be and leadership is another – given the fact that the authorities themselves are lethargic. However, after starting a series of dialogues with landlords on the one hand and technical experts on the other, we don’t feel that these are insurmountable problems. We also have no reason to believe that attempts at civic transformation in Khirkee village are impossible.
It is easy to see the community as divided in terms of ownership patterns, and surely the more humble establishments feel they cannot contribute beyond basic civic responsibilities towards any attempts at improvement of the roads. However, we know of landlords who are plainly disinterested in the upkeep of their own properties and tenants who take a lot of interest in doing so. It is also easy to say that the migratory quality of the population makes them less invested in improvement. Moreover, we have come across many well-established settlements, which are rich and connected by familial and ethnic ties, but are also deeply divided and dysfunctional in the upkeep of common property.
The biggest obstacle to any transformation is the use of a simplistic understanding that such moves must be ‘community’ attempts where notions of community are coloured by ideas of uniform, collective responses and obedient civic action on behalf of everyone. The “absence” of the community is often cited as a reason for an ineffective collective response. We believe that the migratory nature of the population, its divided residents in terms of ownership and tenant status are not insurmountable obstacles. We have seen many examples where migrant communities have revived decaying neighbourhoods that had been abandoned by long-term residents.
Those who feel the most about the issues, or suffer the most, could take leadership and put in resources to start the process. The idea that everyone can give his or her contribution in proportion to capability is also a good way of balancing the leadership and community participation equation. This is the issues that more than any other needs to be addressed with adequate time and resources.
Reflecting and researching through all these questions we have come out with some tentative suggestions and possibilities to improve the situation of ‘Hamari Sadak, Khirkee Extension’.
1. Localised System: Creating a decentralized system of water and sewage management following the suggestions of Ashish Ganju who advocates the use of ‘digestors’ – bio-mechanisms of sewage treatment that help in absorbing sewage into the local ecology. This would be accompanied by rejuvenating the existing water storage facilities including tube wells, to absorb excess rainwater.
Pros: It is off the main grid for drainage and self-sufficient.
Cons: It needs heavy maintenance – almost on a daily basis and it is expensive
2. Grid Connection: Reworking the sewage and drainage system through redesign and new infrastructure.
Pros: It will be a stable system with weekly maintenance.
Cons: Standard and expensive.
3. Cleaning and Repair: Clean the sewages every six months, stop garbage and rubble getting into the drains, open up the storm water drains so that the monsoon related water logging is controlled.
Pros: It is effective and comparatively reasonably priced.
Cons: May not be able to withstand more growth and may become expensive in the long run.
4. Coping strategies: Mosquito nets, spraying of stagnant water. Temporary arrangements to clean up sewage and drains before and during the monsoons.
Pros: Very cheap and fairly easy to implement.
Cons: Short term and not sustainable.
5. Hybrid: Implement/restore a local rainwater drainage system while the grid connection gets repaired and maintained. The road should allow for people to access the water pipes and clean the drainage easily.
Pros: Could get the best of each idea and create a semi-autonomous system
Cons: May be difficult to implement and costly
5. Action plan
1. Document the local knowledge about the physical history of the street.
2. Find out the most active residents and proactive establishments (irrespective of their status).
3. Organize events that bring the neighbourhood together through events with the active residents. These have to be creative and social events and not serious political meetings. The serious agendas should always centre on fundraising.
4. Encourage active residents to take on specific tasks with regard to fundraising through cultural events and political support.
5. Develop annual plans with the groups and committees formed.
6. Start implementing plans that the leadership, in consultation with the residents feel will tackle the road and sewage problem most effectively.
7. Take part in the Khirkee Resident Welfare Association Actively.
8. Lobby with state government on grounds of health and quality of life for higher up support.