The eye of the storm

The AMC of every ward office is assisted by the Executive Engineer (EE) in determining the technical needs and requirements of the public works that need to be initiated. The AMC also works with the local councilors to sanction public works which occur in addition to the funds allotted to them through the centralized departments. This means that though there is a centralized budget for capitals projects sanctioned by the centralized departments within the wards, most of the demands of public are met through the funds present in the councilor funds for which the technocracy and bureaucracy are heavily dependent on the elected representatives. This is a key stream though which the politics of patronage is enacted and performed at the ward level in Mumbai, one that even the bureaucratic arm of the state is intrinsically linked with. The EE presides over the departments of Maintenance and Building factory.

The Maintenance department is headed by the Assistant Engineer (AE) who looks after the roads, repairs to municipal property and drainage. The AE is then in turn assisted by the Sub Engineers (SE) who traditionally look after each of the activities of maintenance – roads, repairs, electrical and drainage. However, due to the huge sizes of the wards of Mumbai, the most recent practice is to divide the personnel of the ward office as per the electoral beats and also to add additional personnel required. In M/E ward, there are two AEs divided as per zone I and II of the ward, who each have two SEs each working under them. The SEs are in turn assisted by the Junior engineers (JE) who are each meant to personally assist and respond to the requirements of the elected councilors of each electoral beat. There are currently seven JEs in the maintenance department of the M/E ward assisting the thirteen elected councilors of the ward.

The Building Factory department of the ME ward is tasked with the monitoring and evaluation of the permitted construction of industries and residential areas. It is also responsible for the detection and demolition of any unauthorized construction that occurs in the ward. The building factory department of the M/E is a particularly interesting one because of the large number of informal settlements that exist within this ward and the informal understanding that exist within this arm of the local state regarding the height of slum dwellings. This department not only looks after the formal construction that may take place in the department, but also is tasked with the implementation of municipal norms within the informal settlements.

This department currently has four AEs looking after Zone I, Zone II, SRA Projects and Industries. The geographical zones of implementation and their activity coincide with the maintenance department, but they have one AE to look after the authorized industries and the other to look after the newly implemented Slum Rehabilitation projects in the ward. The AE’s of Zone I and II are assisted by two SEs who in turn have two JEs each working under them. The AEs for SRA projects (this guy is a designated officer in the ward office which is often considered a punishment posting because if anything ever goes wrong, this guy will be blamed for it – just like it happened in the Kamala mills case) and Industry are supposed to have a similar institutional structure working with them, but are currently deprived of those comforts. However, the most important function in this department is not performed by the higher ups but by the lower level cadre of Mukadams.

This short staffed department is geared towards public works for a staggering population of 632,000 in this ward. Out of these seven JEs there are three women, which was a significant difference from the centralized DP and BP offices where women were found in clerical posts and the newly implemented planning positions. On one of the initial days of my fieldwork as Mr. M got tired of me just showing up every day in his office and presumably tired of entertaining me; he called his peon in and directed him to call the “moolgi aahate na maintenance madhe” (loosely translated as those girl JE in Maintenance). This was in light of my request of letting me follow some of his JEs around.

He insisted that it would only be appropriate that I followed a female officer who had been designated the easier parts of the ward to oversee because he didn’t want me wandering around or encountering some of the bad parts of the ward. When the moolgi did arrive I was happy to meet a dynamic young JE who had joined the MCGM only a year ago, seemed to be interested in working with me and went by Ms. T. We decided that I join her for a designated time periods as she went about addressing their day to day. She lived in the suburban township of Kalyan and travelled into the city everyday for work. For all her work on the field she had purchased a two wheeler which she parked in the ward office itself. I would travel to the ward office and from there we would go wherever required on her two wheeler.