I represent not the poor, I represent not others either

Recently, Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa and his band of Ministers, R Ashoka, Katta Subramanya Naidu and S Suresh Kumar, laid the foundation stone for a housing complex in JP Nagar. The housing complex will come up where a low income neighbourhood (slum) now exists with over 1000 houses. For now, around 100 houses have been razed and the families shifted nearby, in tin sheds.

Speaking to these residents, they complained about the water problem, lack of toilet facilities, families of five were living in a cramped space, the tin sheds scratched them, they were sleeping on mud floors. Many refused to talk to me, saying, “What are we going to get by talking to you?”

Their anger and frustration was evident. It was understandable.

For the sake of housing, they were thrown out of their homes by the state government. Very soon, all the 1000 families will be in tin sheds as they await their new housing.

A similar scene exists in Bangalore East, near Lazar Road. Even as a housing complex for the poor is coming up, the residents of this low income neighbourhood are now sleeping on the pavement, in make-shift tents. Their condition during the rainy season was even worse. Most slept on the platform of the Bangalore East railway station. Even as you ride past Pottery Road, you can see little children running amidst the traffic.

I raised this question recently with Minister for Urban Development Suresh Kumar. He agreed that the issue of decent temporary housing for low income groups, while they are displaced to make way for new housing, is never looked at. “So we have to seriously think about it, make proper arrangement, even during the transit period they have to be accommodated in a better livable condition with all the necessary things like toilet, water, roads, etc. That should become a part of the project”, he said. The Minister was in agreement that this indeed was an issue.

And yet, despite a journalist telling the minister of the specific cases in JP Nagar and elsewhere, a minister who otherwise agreed that the situation should be remedied, nothing has been done on the ground. People continue to live in temporary squalor. For years we have seen this. In the act of building a housing complex for these people using public funds (a good thing) the government throws them out onto the streets. Why not rehabilitate them?

Is it a lack of budget? It can’t possibly be, because the BBMP has funds earmarked for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, most of which is lying unused.

Is it a lack of space, then?

It’s just complete apathy, one would say. And neither do we know if the projects will be completed on time.

Every government claims to want to do something for the poor. At this point, even as a minister in the state cabinet is aware of the JP Nagar housing problem, nothing has been done.

Not just the poor

This hypocrisy is not limited to treating the poor. It exists on matters of policy that arguably interest the better-off too. The question of electing members to city wards committees being a case in point.

The 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution and the Kasturirangan committee report state that ward committees must be set up. The Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure Development (ABIDe) task force’s draft Bengaluru governance bill and Karnataka own’s urban development draft policy; both recommend the setting up of ward committees with members elected from neighbourhoods in the ward.

In the recent past, state politicians have made their views known about elected ward committees and most aren’t in favour of it. They have gone on record saying they prefer nominations, not elections, into ward committees. We could speculate on the real reasons. One, they do not necessarily have to listen to the nominated members. Two, these nominated members can be shown the door any time. Three, a nominated member is not really a representative of the people, so all the more better for our elected netas.

Former Mayor and Congress member P R Ramesh says, "We cannot keep making representatives. That will lead to a quarrel”. BJP MLA Ashoka feels that “scientifically it is not good” to have elected members on ward committees. Then you have Suresh Kumar, who says “it will create a clash”. Kumar says it’s too early to think of elected ward committees and that “Our voters, they are not so much sophisticated to distinguish between these things”.

This, just after he speaks at a public consultation on the very urban development draft policy – from his own ministry — which clearly mentions the need for elected ward committees!

If you disagree with a part of a policy, then why allow it to be in the draft? And then to say that voters are not sophisticated enough appears to be an insult to the very people who brought you to power.

So even if the ABIDe task force or any other committee set up by a ruling government makes its recommendations, the government is not bound to listen to these ‘experts’. The chief minister will first listen to his party. Then lend a ear to these experts, if he wants to.

So we’ve seen two examples of political hypocrisy. One where the poor are treated without dignity and another where recommendations on getting people elected to local committees are conveniently ignored because politicians get nervous at them.

Who do our politicians really represent?

All this comes at a time when there is a surge of activity among middle class citizens (both in the form of voters and election aspirants), who are all seeking change.

A citizen remarked at a recent public event, “We have waited 50 years for policy. We don’t mind waiting a bit longer, as long as you do it right”. Dear politician, we are open to change. Are you?

About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

10 Comments

  1. @M.Rao :-)yesa sir, i have read india together. fine, agreed he may be more than a climate scientist and maybe i am being a little unfair and rude when i said that, but that still doesnt qualify him to do urban planning does it?

  2. @ Vinay – A reading of “India Together”, an e-magazine covering largely development economic issues, published by Dr Ashwin Mahesh, will tell you that he is far more than a climate scientist.

  3. Dear Vaishnavi,

    I understand the intention of the article is not to question ABIDe but is to question why the government is not listening to the committees it appointed.

    But my contention still remains 🙂 – how can one equate ABIDe with other committees appointed after following requisite processes? and if you do equate are you not legitimising it?

    sure part of my original comment is not abt the article’s intent, but is abt ABIDe and its legitimacy which is not somehting tackled in the article, but i am forced to take it up here because when i do see people equating ABIDe with other committees, i feel its harmful. And i am writing here because i think it will be heard. A certain big media house actually glorifies ABIDe, but nothing i do will change things there. But here i’m trying to get my point across that when people write ANY article where ABIDe is equated with other committees or does something to legitimise ABIDe , then it is not in the larger public interest.

  4. Dear Vinay

    When I question why the government is not listening to committees like ABIDe, I do so in context. Questioning the setting up of ABIDe is a different subject and that wasn’t the intention of the above piece of writing. The point I was making in the article was not with regard to ABIDe’s legitimacy.
    At one level or other there will always be questions about politically appointed committees and task forces.

  5. ABIDe is just a eye-wash group put together by BSY to prove to Bangaloreans that he is no hick from the backwoods of Shimoga and that if Krishna could set up BATF, I can set up ABIDe. The committee members bought into it, perhaps fully knowing that they are just toothless servants serving a spineless wonder called BSY

  6. Dear Vaishnavi,

    I did not intend to communicate that you supported ABIDe.

    However when anyone questions why the government is not listening to committees like ABIDe, it sort of gives ABIDe some legitimacy which it does not have, would you agree?

    I think we do need to question how ABIDe is put in the same league as general committees set-up by the government.ABIDe does not even have a Terms of Reference(TOR) ( smaller committees like BBMP’s TAC have a ToR), ABIDe’s work is supported by a private foundation, people listed as members claim they never agreed to be part of it. All ABIDe has is a government order setting it up. How is it really a legitimate committee?

  7. Dear Vinay,

    You appear to assume in your comment that my piece is premised on support for ABIDe. This piece is not meant to be in favour of any committee setup by the state government including ABIDe. As a reporter, I neither endorse a government-appointed committee nor otherwise. What the article points out is two different examples of hypocrisy that exist within political circles. Why setup a committee (there have been several) when you don’t even listen to it? Why talk about elected ward committees publicly when you otherwise choose to be against it?

  8. spot on with the first half of the story. it is the governments responsibility to provide them decent temporary accommodation while building new accommodation. it is inhuman to offer people tents as housing, they have a right to proper housing and it needs to be fulfilled. i repeat asking for decent accomodation is a right – not charity the govt offers.

    with the second half of the article – i fully agree with the demand for a elected ward committee. dont ppl in villages vote for their gram panchayat, which is non-political? why cant we have that here?

    however i must ask why you feel ABIDe reports ought to be given any weight. who is ABIDe? what is its legitimacy? a committee to advise the chief minister, headed by the chief minister!! and now their latest plan is fiancially supported by Namma Bengaluru foundation, a private body!! brilliant stuff, no? and what are their credentials – Rajeev chandrashehar – an industrialist MP who has never fought a popular election and no real experience of urban governance, Ashwin Mahesh – a climate scientist, tech entrpreneur, R.K.Mishra – winner of a newspaper contest. Only Dr.Ravindra, by virtue of being ex-chief secy etc has some bearing? why would anyone think that ABIDe reports need to be looked into and given weight?

  9. Very well said. Excellent reporting. I am glad that Citizen Matters is trying to blow up such issues on their face. In spite of which nothing has been done. Who do our politicians really represent? is an interesting and very open ended question. Answer will come out if they lose in the elections with less number of votes. They just represent the ‘typical’ politicians with the ‘chaltaa hai’ attitude towards everything. They represent a bunch of jokers!And its completely because of their lack of senses!

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