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GARBAGE POWER

The mayor of Calcutta, like millions of other Indians, is just another citizen with a responsible job. He is subject to the laws of the land, and of the civic institutions he works for or looks after. These are simple truths, self-evident in any modern democracy. If the mayor has to be reminded of them from time to time, then it amounts to a serious breach of professional conduct. If these reminders fall on deaf ears, and lead to more unpleasant bluster and threats, then it certainly amounts to a bad case of the abuse of power. Mr Subrata Mukherjee has threatened a local hospital that there might be no collection of garbage from its premises by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. This is a punishment for the hospitalís surgeon-superintendent for not having behaved with the mayor as he should have. The mayor was reportedly incensed because a patient referred by him to the hospital for admission was made to go through the official channels in order to be admitted. On top of this, the hospital administrator had not showed the mayor his due respect. Hence this sanction, together with equally terrifying complaints to higher political authorities. The mayor has also managed to get an abject apology out of the superintendent.

This incident encapsulates everything that is wrong with the political and bureaucratic culture in West Bengal, and indeed in India. The entire system thrives on an unabashedly feudal hierarchy which functions through the crudest forms of intimidation and power-wielding. Positions of actual or symbolic seniority within this hierarchy come with a host of unofficial prerogatives which flout every norm of professional, civil or democratic conduct. Accountability is virtually non-existent within such a system, and such institutions as the municipality and other civic bodies become politicized to an extent that allows the worst injustices and misdemeanours. During the Durga puja, the mayor routinely and triumphantly flouts a whole set of rules regarding pandal-construction and noise pollution. These floutings are then brazenly justified through a publicized rationale which uses to its own end a form of populism that has always been the most convenient political rhetoric available to public figures in West Bengal, whatever their ideological affiliation. Using the municipality as an instrument of personal vengeance or his local puja to promote law-breaking as festive fun amounts to an uncivility for which the mayor, like any ordinary Calcuttan, should be put in his place without the fear of heads rolling in the process.

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