Interview

Siliguri Municipal Corporation– Safeguarding Quality of Life through Innovation

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The city witnesses footfall of over a lakh floating population daily at the peak of summers and winters. While this would be normal for any of other big cities of India, it should be remembered that Siliguri is a city spread over only 42 sq. km. area. Thus, the quantum of floating population puts a tremendous pressure on the city, says Saptarshi Nag, Secretary, Siliguri Municipal Corporation, in an interview with Gopi Krishna Arora of Elets News Network (ENN).

Saptarshi Nag

Saptarshi Nag, Secretary, Siliguri Municipal Corporation

What are the key focus areas for Siliguri Municipal Corporation?

As mandated by the Constitution of India and the West Bengal Municipal (Amendment) Act, 2015, Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) is responsible for delivering a wide range of basic services to the citizens of Siliguri, all of which are equally important. The failure of any of the service systems will result in inevitable mayhem. However, the core principle behind all the roles and responsibilities of SMC is to ensure that the quality of life of the citizens of Siliguri is at par with the other Class I cities of India.

Towards this, special attention is given to safeguarding healthy and clean living conditions through provision of safe water supply, sewerage, sanitation, solid waste management, transportation, welfare of the economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society, enhancing air and water quality, and the upkeep of community spaces, both open and closed.

Which major initiatives have been launched by SMC recently?

SMC’s recent initiatives include segregation of solid waste at source into wet and dry categories, and their consequent processing at a modern and state of the art facility; detection of leaks in the water supply pipeline through acoustic leak detection technology; monitoring of air quality through four air quality monitoring stations (based on which an air quality action plan is being developed); inventorisation of greenhouse gas emissions in and around the city by assessing the vulnerabilities of the city and its citizens with respect to climate change, and developing climate resilient city action plan to mitigate and adapt to the various impacts of a changing climate; riverfront development; restricting the use of plastic carry bags; and using the seized plastics for laying roads.

How does the city fair in terms of waste management, adoption of clean mobility, and sanitation?

These are three different issues and sectors, but in the case of Siliguri they are not mutually exclusive. This is because Siliguri is an ideal example of what we call a ‘break of bulk’ point in economics. The city is the economic engine of the eight northernmost districts of West Bengal, and an important trading post for Sikkim and the seven northeastern States of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Simultaneously, the city developed as a strong transport and tourism interchange hub. As such, the city witnesses the footfall of over a lakh of floating population daily at its peak in the summers and winters. While this would be normal for any of other big cities of India, it should be remembered that Siliguri is a city spread over only 42 sq. km. area. Thus, the quantum of floating population puts a tremendous pressure on the city with respect to:
(i) solid waste management,
(ii) providing adequate sanitation facilities,
(iii)
keeping the city congestion free.

  • Solid Waste Management – There are 47 wards in Siliguri which generate more than 350 tonnes of solid waste per day. The waste is collected from each households, commercial, transportation and institutional units and transported to an open landfill within the city boundary. Dumping of solid waste in an open landfill is not really a sound practice, but other than that we already have a robust system in place for solid waste management in the city. The system will be further strengthened if we are able to curb indiscriminate dumping at the end point, i.e. the open landfill. Towards this, we have recently conducted a pilot for segregation into wet and dry waste at source in a few wards of the city. The wet waste is being converted to compost at SMC’s mechanised Organic Waste Composting Facility, while the dry waste is being sold to recyclers, thereby, ensuring minimum waste is reaching the open landfill from these two wards. The pilot has received acclaim from all sections of the society and now we are planning to scale it up to the whole city. Once this is achieved then it would result into minimum waste reaching the open landfill from the whole city, following which we can work towards transforming the open landfill into a scientific and sanitary landfill.
  • Sanitation – The citizens of Siliguri are very cleanliness-oriented and so, sanitation issues have never been a cause of concern in the city, except in the transportation depots like railway stations, taxi stands and bus terminuses, commercial hubs and slum areas. All these critical places have provision of sufficient number of toilets. The residents of slums are being made aware of the menace of open defecation and discharge of urine in the open environment, while on the other hand the offenders in the transport depots and commercial hubs are being levied on the spot fine for their offence. This combination of awareness generation and penalization, coupled with construction of toilets by SMC, has curbed the menace of open defecation and discharge of urine in the open environment in Siliguri.
  • Adoption of clean mobility – The transportation sector is beyond the purview of SMC’s jurisdiction. SMC supports the District Magistrate’s Office, Sub Divisional Officer’s Office and the Traffic Police for operating the transportation sector in Siliguri. In order to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel based transport modes, the Government of West Bengal is promoting electric rickshaws and mass public transport systems in Siliguri, which are entirely new concepts for the city. Simultaneously, the Government is also promoting the traditional modes of commuting within the city, viz, non- motorised transport modes like cycle rickshaws and bicycles, and walking, which together account for 33 percent for daily trips within the city.

What are the major challenges being faced by the citizens of Siliguri and how do you plan to use e-governance and ICT to overcome them?

The citizens of Siliguri, like any other city in India, face the problem of inaccessibility to the top brass of SMC for the solutions of their problems. After all, the citizens hope the top leadership will listen to their problems with more care and solve their problems. However, it is sad and bitter truth that we at the leaders’ tables already have our hands full. So, often we cannot entertain all those who want access to us. Although, we strive to the best of our abilities like staying behind at office late in the evening, often beyond 7 pm, still we cannot fulfil everyone’s hopes, even though we want to. To solve this issue we have started SMC’s Facebook page, alongside our own personal Facebook and other social media profiles, where petitioners can message us directly. SMC’s Facebook page is closely monitored by a group of dedicated personnel under our, i.e. the leadership’s direct supervision. This has resulted in the solution of many critical issues and disputes in a speedy manner, which otherwise might have taken up a lot of time. SMC uploads tenders and disburses fuel and emoluments through an e-portal in order to ensure transparency and accountability.

Tell us more about your book ‘Make It Big – Cracking Government Interviews in Corporate Style’. What inspired you to write it?

As the name suggests, the book’s theme is personality and mindset development for cracking government interviews. Our personality and mindset get reflected in our attitude, behaviour, mannerisms and fashion. Well, there are countless such books in the open market, and despite that I chose to write on these very subjects. The reason behind this is every day is a new day. The world is in a constant course of change. Something that was relevant a few years ago might not be so today. In all probability, this book of mine might not be relevant a few years or decades down the line. This is an age of technological advancement. We are making technological breakthroughs almost every day. We are being exposed to new ideas, concepts, and beliefs on a regular basis, which is moulding our own perceptions gradually. Governments are no different because at the end of the day, governments comprised people only, especially the younger generation, who are bringing in modern, revolutionary and path-breaking concepts as they enter the system. The aspirants need to keep pace with this gradual yet constant change as well, lest they be left in the dust.

To be honest, I wrote the book on a whim actually. West Bengal is home to a multitude of talent, but unfortunately they lack the wherewithal to transform their talent into something tangible. Leaving aside reading on the concepts of personality and mindset development, there are areas in almost all developing countries, India included, where people have not even heard of such concepts. A few years ago, I started my own YouTube channel following the requests of some students and aspirants, offering them guidance for their upcoming interviews. Through those videos, I developed a follower base and came in touch with students from the various parts of West Bengal, some of which were so interior that the students belonging to those parts had to walk or cycle tens of kilometers just to access the internet. Yes, right the internet, something that we in the cities take for granted so easily! Following this, I decided to lighten their burden to the best of my abilities, and what better way to do so than to deliver a book to them. I had hoped that instead of wasting time on travelling hours just to watch a half-an-hour video of pep-talk, those students can spend the time reading a book and motivating themselves towards the glory that they so crave. This book is primarily for those who even amidst the highest form of struggle for existence have not stopped pursuing their dreams. Thus, the book does not expound on any important theories or theorems of success, rather the book aims to give a Big Push to all the struggling and scorned ones towards realising their pursuits.

In the book, I have stressed on the importance of positive attitude and challenging oneself time and again as a surefire way of smelting oneself. As a confession, I might add that this book is also a smelting trial for me, because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone of being an established government bureaucrat and explore avenues of my own self, which hitherto had been unknown to me. As the saying goes, ‘preach what you practice’. Even if this book of mine does not sell many copies, still I shall challenge myself once again and continue writing till the goal is reached.

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