How We Restored our Gully in Paharganj | A Journalistic Essay

As I saw my childhood friends eventually move out and gazed at abandoned homes become dubiously built hotels, somehow, the street I lived in remained the same.  Paharganj has been in a constant state of flux, embracing and resisting change year-on-year. To a non-denizen, it'd look like a vibrant, bustling and exotic hotspot of tourists, shops and whatnot, but to those who live here; certainly, things have been more or less grim.

Substandard sanitation system, congested housing, poor security surveillance and patchy roads have ever since plagued our streets. Yet somehow, this is exactly where I've had some of the best days of my childhood. The streets that I call plagued today are exactly where I've played cricket, hide-and-seek, buy toys and everything else. All gullies of Paharganj echo our laughs and tears of the lost days; nothing will ever change that.

Over the years, as I grew older, the sludge in my street sewage began to look a little more murky. By now, those rogue plastic bags of garbage that my neighbours used to throw down the balcony, almost every night, began to resound within me like the clanging of metal. Although this awakening of mine took place in the Year 2020, my Father had already had enough and raised a complaint in the Year 2017.

Back in 2017, my father emailed our MLA explaining our plight, to which he was ensured that proper steps will be taken. As expected, he observed no response, to which my Father followed up in 2018, and in a blink of an eye, it was 2020, the year when both of us had had enough. At this point, we had submitted written applications with everybody's signatures, brainstormed with the respected elder of our area who knows quite a lot of about governance, but availed nothing.

After getting no solid response for almost three years, we decided to fix our street ourselves. We flattened the open sewages just like any other gully, and all drainage water now flowed through the underground piping, thanks to Mr Bhushan and team, our local plumbing veterans. Another set of neighbours who loved spitting and dumping rubbish in the small sewage passage were disappointed, but we couldn't care less. And that is when Mr Amarnath Rajput, President of Ward 93 (Paharganj) poetically signalled us.

Parallel to our self-solo-volunteered street repairing project, I had emailed the top leadership of the Delhi Government all details of the scenario, which was then forwarded to the Ministry of Urban Development. We didn't get a direct response. Call it the effect of our compounded efforts or the power of a single email, Mr Amarnath Rajput finally met my Father in mid-2020 for the final nod, and ensured him that the restoration would begin around February 2021 for sure. Our gully was now supposedly in the grand pipeline of projects. Although we did observe some specific areas being dug up, by now, my Father and I knew better, and we continued with completing our end of repairs, feebly hoping that months later, someone will arrive. And guess what? They did.

By February 2021, all streets were dug up to completely renew the sewage system of Paharganj. Be it Main Bazaar or the hidden gullies, they were now being scrapped one by one. After a long wait, it was our turn.

Work went on like it usually does, sometimes there'd be a spike in activity, while other days there'd be none. Yet overall, the workers/labourers kept working diligently, slowly and steadily. One of the 'malwa lifting' crews did break our water connection, but it's alright. A little collateral damage for the greater good doesn't hurt.

Eventually, after all the final checks, on one poetic night, the cementing brothers arrived at 3:00AM in the morning, and levelled off everything in their own muse, rock solid and concrete. We could walk on newly prepared firm roads. It was amazing.

Overhaul of main gully complete.

Credit where it's due, even though this process took 3 years to finally meet its completion, when things were set in motion, Mr Amarnath was in touch us with us throughout. Be it some changes or clarifications regarding the process, he entertained all requests very well, as he should. I haven't personally met Mr Vishesh Ravi, our area MLA, but it's true that without his push, this reformation couldn't have been possible.

All elected leaders must serve the citizens of a country wholeheartedly, but without raising your voice, or registering feedback, nothing can move forward. Had my Father not stepped up, or I hadn't gone the extra mile to understand what's going on and acted, we would still have been living with the age-old open drainage/sewage in the 21st century.

By no means Paharganj is perfect, in fact, if you'd ask me, sadly, it's slowly fading away into something completely different, as a commercial hotspot. Moreover, the restored gully, even though it's way better than before, doesn't let the water run-off properly and stays littered a couple of times. Yet, as long as we're here, ignoring the sad state of affairs does no-one any good.

There are a lot of aspects where the state government needs to step up in our locality, be it awareness and outreach, monitoring of activities and timely grievance lodging and resolution. To help facilitate that, criticality and criticism must never stop.

In recent times, the local leadership has also installed CCTV cameras in many streets, including ours. It was a happily welcome initiative, but that's a tale for another day.

Direct Comparison of Before vs After of the inner gully.

Liked reading this? If you'd like to see more of the before and after shots, let me know. We did click some pictures, but I've decided to release them on a need basis.

I'd like to mention our respected elderly neighbour as well, who guided and stood along us passively, as a key stakeholder in all of this. Even a little bit of support in any way gives you even more strength.

If you liked reading this article, you can read more of my posts here on ScrollStack. I've got some more posts lined up, stay tuned. Stay awesome.

Abhinav Thakur

I exist in a myriad of lies.
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