Guwahati, the State capital and the much-touted gateway to Southeast Asia, continues to suffer from the lack of a matching civic infrastructure even as the mounting population is subjecting this inadequate infrastructure to severe stress. A case in point happens to be the plight of the pedestrians, with most footpaths remaining under illegal occupation of vendors and petty traders. The inaction by the civic, administrative and police authorities has stretched things to such a pass that it is no longer possible to have an uninterrupted passage even for a short distance on the pavements. An occasional eviction drive carried out by the authorities is little more than eyewash, given that the encroachers fall back on the freed space in no time. Also evident is that fact that underhand dealings are a big factor behind the recurring encroachments, with the vendors greasing the palms of the civic and police authorities to redeem their illegalities. Recently, the authorities renovated some of the footpaths as part of the city’s beautification drive, which is a welcome step but at the same time freeing these spaces from unauthorized occupation is no less imperative.
It is the government machinery that owes an inescapable responsibility in stemming the tide of unplanned development that has choked the city in its grip. Successive governments have failed the people when it comes to developing the State capital as a city worthy of living. Nature had been gracious enough to endow the city with an enviable landscape but our authorities made a total mess of this invaluable bequeath whereas some prudent thinking could have gone a long way in developing Guwahati as a model city. Time is fast running out for the city and the foremost need before the authorities is to come up with some harsh decisions and enforce those with a firm hand. First, the hills, forests and water-bodies must be protected and all encroachers evicted even if it means losing a few political points. The Government has already allotted land patta to thousands of families living in hills and now onwards there needs to be a complete stop to any further land settlement on the hills. Further desecration of nature will inevitably come with a severe backlash and the needs of nature must be respected. It is precisely due to widespread corruption in our officialdom that all norms concerning urban planning are being thrown to the wind. Getting the rules bent to one’s convenience by bribing those who matter in the bureaucratic and political hierarchy has become the norm. The mushrooming high-rises over small plots have effectively choked every bit of open space and are worsening the civic woes of congested residential areas. Emphasis should also be laid on developing the city’s outskirts as satellite townships to ease the pressure on the city. Reversing this trend of ugly urbanization will test the political will and administrative efficiency of the Government.