Take today’s news (June 3, 2010). Two reports are highlighted, one about Bangalore’s horrendous road fatalities (second highest in the country after Delhi, with over 860 deaths annually, and over 6,100 injured) and the other about a wall collapse that killed a 17-year-old girl.
The compound wall had been built by the BBMP just three months ago. The girl had taken shelter next to it as it was raining, and the wall collapsed, crushing her underneath. Bad enough. But what is outrageous is the lack of accountability – the BBMP had parcelled out the work of erecting a short stretch of compound wall, to several contractors (so that each bidder gets a piece of the pie ?) and disclaims responsibility (“It’s the contractor, not us” – but which contractor? How does the public identify the culprit?) The BBMP also shifts the blame on to the BWSSB which reportedly “shifted” a pipeline to the side along the wall to facilitate “road widening”.
Doesn’t the BBMP require the contractor to check about pipes, before erecting a wall that cannot even withstand one ordinary bout of rain? How much did the contractor pocket for such work? A road is widened to “make driving easier for the well-healed, car-owning citizen”, water pipes are relocated, contractors make money – and in the end, a young girl dies.
A Global Investors Meet is on, the city is decked up with cutouts and posters, welcome arches and festoons at roundabouts, and the average citizen doesn’t even have a guarantee of safe movement. If you are on the road, you get maimed or killed by traffic, if you stand beside a wall you get buried under and killed. This, then, is the reality of daily life for Bengaluru’s citizens. Atrocious? Murderous, criminal callousness on the part of those who are supposed to provide services (civic, water, traffic)? I can think of many more adjectives….
The monsoons will arrive today, soon there will be news reports about someone falling into a manhole or storm water drain, and dying. The media will jostle for photos of the grieving family, with an inset of the dead child or adult, the chief minister will sanction one lakh as compensation – and life will go on, our service providers’ staff will draw their salaries. It will be business as usual.
It is not just callousness, it is worse, with corruption poisoning the soil – it is said that one of the contractors entrusted with the compound wall construction, could be “a sitting corporator”.
We, the public, who elect corporators, to run our city, read such reports and turn the page. Are we, then, not also culpable and accountable?
So what can we do, as “helpless” onlookers in a metropolis that is, literally, killing us, on the roads and pavements? Here is a list, to begin with. Lots more can be added –
1. Speak up. Pull up corporators, do they not feel ashamed when the media alleges that one of them is responsible for the shabby construction that killed a 17 year old girl? One citizen speaking up, cannot shame civic authorities, a group of us, 20-30-100, raising a collective voice, cannot be ignored. Citizens did that, last week, to oppose plans for “doing up” Lalbagh. We have no option but to keep raising our voices, in other matters concerning our living environment. Including bad roads, bad pavements, dug up mud left by the roadside, only to be washed into the drain by the next shower, rubble left where pedestrians can trip over and get hurt (this morning I had to put on a band-aid on a bleeding wound on my foot after tripping on a jagged concrete slab along the pavement.)
2. Blaming officials for lack of accountability is only one side of the coin. The other is that of citizens’ obligations – 6,100 citizens get hurt in road accidents because traffic discipline is not taught by driving schools. We flout rules. Don’t overtake on the left. (Thousands of two wheelers, do just that, that too at bus stops where commuters could get run over) Don’t cross the road at random, scurrying to dodge oncoming traffic. Observe discipline, as drivers and pedestrians. Pull up those who flout rules and endanger others’ lives. Take down vehicle numbers, form neighbourhood volunteer corps.
3. Play your part — don’t toss plastic cups and plates, by the roadside. Pull up those who do (it works – I ask passersby who litter, to pick up their rubbish, and almost always they do.)
4.. Get involved in civic initiatives. Don’t wait till your own house is marked for demolition, lend support to neighbourhood monitoring initiatives, whether it is saving a playground or pulling up corrupt officials.
Don’t wait till you get killed. On the road or beside a wall.
That would be too late…