“Where were you all, madam, at that time?” asked a BBMP official dealing with the city’s infrastructure development, last week. This was not some rhetorical cross-examination of an accused during a crime investigation (though, as you will presently see, there is an element of crime involved) but something more basic that many of us can be asked or should ask ourselves more often.
Residents of a Scientists’ Colony is south Bengaluru suddenly woke up one recent morning to find that some of their houses, inside the colony had been marked for “road widening”. The road running through the colony was perfectly able to handle the quantum of traffic it catered to, the colony has existed for many years and construction therein is all legitimate. So what was going on?
It transpired that a large amount of money had been paid to the city administration, for widening the road running through the colony, in order to facilitate access to a large, new and fancy temple that was coming further down the area. Widen by 25 feet on one side , and by 15 feet on the other, the authorities had decided.
How is it?
Even scientists immersed in their esoteric work, do not enjoy the prospect of becoming homeless and living under the open sky. So a few of the residents went to meet this official, and after getting a promise that he would look into their grievance, one of the residents raised a question. “How is it,” she asked him, “that permission had been given for a large shopping mall at the entrance to Malleswaram, where the busy arterial road leading north gets blocked by shoppers’ vehicles so badly, every day, that a doctor who lives in the vicinity of the mall finds it difficult to take out her car when she gets emergency calls."
The mall reportedly has provision for parking of 3,000 cars but that is apparently insufficient, so cars block the road leading from Central bus stop, and hundreds of buses heading north from Majestic bus stand line up in endless queues, wasting petrol for the BMTC and time for thousands of commuters.
I have seen BMTC buses taking an unscheduled detour from this circle, to get past the blockage, thus skipping scheduled bus stops and causing inconvenience to citizens waiting at those stops.
Surely, this woman protesting about the sanctioning of the mall added, it doesn’t make sense to cause inconvenience to thousands of commuters in the name of a shopping mall for the pleasure of some.
Where were you?
That is when the official raised his question. “Where were you, madam,” he said, “When we invited comments from the public, about the proposal? How many residents of Malleswaram raised objections at that time, before the mall was sanctioned and built? If they did not bother to register their objections, why complain now, and hold the city administration responsible ?”
Ponder on that. Honestly, how many of us really bother about getting involved in the developments of our neighbourhood, before it affect us directly?
We all read newspapers. I wonder how many of us even notice announcements that appear periodically, inviting comments from the public, for various discussions planned in parliament, on issues pertaining to citizens’ lives?
These announcements are not tiny, they are quite prominently printed. I have, before me, one such announcement, put out by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, inviting suggestions on foreign educational institutions: Regulation of entry and operations bill, 2010.
The name of the officer in charge of looking at the comments from the public, is also given (Arun Sharma) with his office address as well as email address. Any one could have written in, with comments. Fifteen days time was given, for sending in comments.
Many of us have strong opinions about the entry of foreign educational institutions but how many bothered to get these opinions before those who want to know what we feel about the proposed law? Mea culpa – I have strong views but didn’t bother to write in (I was “busy with other things” as we all like to say)
Participatory inputs in governance
So can we really blame the government if we get laws passed, whether it is converting residential areas into commercial hubs, or allowing the entry of foreign institutions? We are, most of us, including the educated segments, “elsewhere” when it comes to participatory inputs in governance.
Because large numbers of citizens turned up at the public hearing on Bt Brinjal the minister put the issue on hold. We did not turn up voluntarily – it was mostly farmers, brought in by activists, or farmers worried about their futures.
If we put in our bit before decisions are taken, or during the process, we would have less to complain about – and a better city environment. This means of course, vigilance, keeping track of what is being planned, looking at decision making processes, but as the famous saying goes – Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
Now, for that element of crime mentioned at the beginning of this piece – if we do not discharge our obligations as citizens of a democracy, isn’t that as much a crime as an official not discharging his obligations? ⊕