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The Problem of Infrastructure and Civic Amenities in Cities in India*
by Justice M. Katju

Cite as : (2002) 3 SCC (Jour) 1

All cities in India are bursting to the seams, due to the rise in population and heavy influx of people from villages to cities. For example, Allahabad (where I live) had a population of about 3,00,000, 40 years ago; today it has a population of over 2 million. The problem is that the infrastructure (water, electric supply, roads, drainage, sewers, schools, hospitals etc.) has not improved or increased at the same rate as the increase in the population. Consequently, residents of cities are facing the regular nightmare of lack of water and electricity, bad roads etc. To give an example, in June 1998 there were riots in Delhi in colonies which were not getting any water or electricity. Similarly, riots and chakka jam (roadblocks) occurred in other cities too. The situation will get worse in the coming years unless some drastic steps are taken. I have been experimenting with solutions in this field. The method which I am trying is to form (by judicial orders in PIL) Citizens Committees consisting of not only bureaucrats but also responsible members of the public e.g. doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, engineers, journalists, businessmen etc. I strongly believe that citizens should also be involved in solving their own problems, as these problems are too big to be solved by bureaucrats alone.

Human mind has creativity. When citizens and bureaucrats get together then by discussions and by using their creativity most problems can be solved. All that is required is to create a human mechanism or apparatus which can liberate the potential creativity, and this can be done by judicial orders.

I may give a few examples. As I stated before, 40 years ago Allahabad city had a population of 3 lakhs, but now it is over 20 lakhs. However, the water supply system has not been improved. There is still only one waterworks at Khusrubagh, and two of the four underground tanks there are said to be out of order. The result is that often large parts of Allahabad get no water. Several people have set up their own tubewells or pumping sets. In the summer months, particularly, the result is that every year many people die of heatstroke and dehydration, and the others also live a life of agony. Consequently, there are chakka jams and agitations by citizens who naturally take to the streets.

To deal with this situation a Division Bench (presided over by me) in S.K. Garg v. State of U.P.1 passed an order on 28-5-1998 constituting a Citizens Committee relating to water shortage.

Similarly, a Division Bench presided over by me passed an order in S.K. Garg v. State of U.P.2 on 21-12-1998 in a PIL relating to the plight of government hospitals.

In the year 2000 there was heavy waterlogging in Allahabad during the rainy season. The drains in Allahabad had all been encroached upon by people who had built houses or shops there (probably in collusion with the Municipal Authorities) and consequently the entire drainage system in the city had collapsed. When the rains came, half of Allahabad went under water (Justice V.N. Khare's house was 4 feet under water) because there was no outlet for the water to go.

Once again, in a PIL we formed a Citizens Committee to deal with this problem (vide J.N. Chaturvedi v. Commr.3) and monitored its functioning. A lot of good work was done by this Committee, the drains were largely cleared, and consequently there was little waterlogging in 2001.

A few things need to be said about these Citizens Committees which we formed by judicial orders in PILs.

1. The Committees comprise both citizens (lawyers, doctors, teachers, businessmen, journalists, technical experts etc.) and bureaucrats (the District Magistrate, officials of waterworks, electricity and telephone departments etc.). However, the Chairman was always a non-bureaucrat, and we usually appointed a reputed senior lawyer of the Allahabad High Court.

2. Technical experts were always kept in the Committee, because the problem usually requires technical expertise to solve.

3. The Chairman of the Committee was authorized to nominate more persons on the Committee.

4. The Committee was authorized to issue directives to officials and others, and the State Government was directed to give all help, technical, financial or otherwise to the Committee.

5. The Committee was empowered to call for accounts of government grants and expenditures pertaining to the matter they were dealing with.

6. The initial members of the Committee were carefully chosen by the Court. Since they were nominated, not elected members, we had to see that no "neta" type of person was appointed, otherwise he would be more interested in serving his own ends rather than serving the citizens. This was easy for me to do regarding the committees set up for Allahabad since I have lived most of my life in Allahabad, but for other cities other people will have to do this. It is important that the persons appointed on the Committee are socially committed persons.

It may be mentioned that the Court did not itself issue directives pertaining to the problem. Judges are not technical experts, and hence in my opinion it would be a mistake for them to try to solve the problem themselves. They should only set up the Citizens Committee, tell them its task, empower it to issue directives and then monitor its functioning, by listing the case every month or two and ask for progress reports from the Committee.

No doubt, since it will be a new experiment there will initially be mistakes and even failures, but that happens in all experiments. There should then be a reassessment and re-examination of the exercise, mistakes found out and corrected, and a fresh exercise undertaken. In my view this is the only way out of the problem.

As I said before, the human mind has creativity. Once people get an opportunity they will solve many of their own problems, using their own heads. All that has to be done is to liberate that dormant or potential creativity, and this can be done by forming Citizens Committees through PIL.

Certain objections to this idea have been raised by some persons with whom the writer discussed it.

It was said that this whole exercise will be futile as the bureaucrats will frustrate it since it will be an obstacle to their corruption. But, firstly, not all bureaucrats are corrupt, and secondly, the Citizens Committees will act as a watchdog on behalf of the citizens and ask for accounts from the bureaucrats.

Another objection is that such Committees would be illegal as they would tantamount to creating a parallel municipality, which can only be done by legislation. To this the reply is that citizens' lives are more important than legal technicalities. In an era of crises we have to innovate, and not always follow the conventional path. Had the municipal corporations been discharging their functions properly the problems of the cities would not have arisen, but everyone knows that they are centres of corruption. Should the citizens keep "Waiting for Godot"? I think not, and the way out, to my mind, is to create Citizens Committees in the above manner to deal with the problems of civic amenities and infrastructure in the cities of India. That is the democratic approach too.

Further, the mechanism that I am suggesting and have adopted in the exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution is primarily designed to deal with crisis situations threatening the very existence of the life of the populace, arising from the Court's perception that the State's instrumentalities charged with the duty to combat or prevent the occurrence of the same are either not aware of the implications of the enormity of such situations or are otherwise not sufficiently sensitized about the same or may even be incapable of dealing with such crises by reason of red-tapism involved or lack of funds or their mindset or the like.

It must also be remembered that under the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, citizens have the right to life under Article 21, which has been held to mean the right to a civilized life. Thus if the Court finds that the authority charged with the duty to provide drinking water to the citizens completely fails to do so, or where one enjoined to safeguard the health and hygiene of the citizens or to secure their survival, instead of exposing them to the spread of diseases and epidemics, blatantly shuts its eyes to the same, it (the Court) is left with no option but to intervene with a view to enforcing the fulfilment of the duties and obligations that are clearly cast on the State and its instrumentalities.

In doing this the superior courts will only be enforcing their rights and obligations cast on the State guaranteed or promised under Parts III (Article 21, for example), IV and IV-A of the Constitution. Such enforcement is clearly traceable to the powers conferred under Article 226 of the Constitution and in the case of the Supreme Court, Articles 32, 136 and 142 etc. The suggested mechanism falls within the parameters of the Constitution, especially where the crisis brooks no delay which is bound to be caused because of the usual procedural wrangle and perennial shortage of Judges.

It will, therefore, be wrong to presume that when the High Court issues such directions through mechanism of formation of Committees of Citizens and of the functionaries of the departments concerned, it encroaches upon the supposed exclusive preserves of the executive. Indeed in taking recourse to this mechanism the Court takes care to include the representatives of the departments concerned of the Government. Further, in appointing Committees of Citizens the Court does not lose its seisen over the case. It retains the case on its file, monitoring and directing the progress made by the Committees with the ultimate decision and orders to be passed being retained by the Court on its file. The Committees are suggested to work in tandem with the authorities concerned and under the supervision of the Court till the crisis is over.

Finally, the extraordinary situations, unprecedented in nature or intensity, not only warrant but cry for innovation even in the field of administration of justice with a view to combating major crises calling for immediate action to safeguard the lives and liberty of the citizens. It is in realization of this sense of urgency that the Courts have been intervening by way of monitoring the working of the executive with the aid and cooperation of the affected citizens. The fight against the pollution and preservation of environment in the capital and the way the Supreme Court is monitoring the same is the latest instance of this new judicial approach but, it is respectfully suggested, a Citizens Committee should also be created (by judicial orders) for this purpose.

* This is the speech delivered by the writer at a seminar held at Delhi on 2-3-2002 organized by International Law Association, inaugurated by the Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India. Return to Text

**Judge, Allahabad High Court Return to Text

  1. AIR 1999 All 41 Return to Text
  2. (1999) 35 All LR 362 Return to Text
  3. AIR 2001 All 148 Return to Text
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