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?