Looking back, stories that stand out

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Birthdays are always occasions for celebration – and so, as the print edition of Citizen Matters completes two years this week, I am looking back on the stories we have had and shared, and find that a few stand out as particularly worthy of mention.

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"Two J.P.Nagar-ites help city apartments save lakhs of rupees"

The report in the issue dated Jan 15-23 this year, was an important piece of reporting, which no mainstream publication bothered to cover, much less splash as a scoop – despite the fact that newspapers are meant to "inform" the readers about issues relevant to their daily lives.

This story related to the slapping of huge penalties by Bescom, on apartment blocks alleging violation of sanctioned power, citing specious arguments. Hundreds of citizens get bills demanding "arrears" adding up to huge sums. Not all of them are able to run around contesting such claims, some don’t have the time, others don’t have the energy or resources to pursue a complaint.

This story was about two residents who took the trouble to challenge the unjust levy – and win their case, which meant that hundreds of other residents too benefited from their persistence. That is what community involvement is all about. Kudos not only to the two citizens who fought this battle but also to Citizen Matters for unearthing and publicising this case.

"It takes a babu to out-babu another babu"

It may sound like a convoluted title, but that story, about a former IAS officer who heads the ipaidabribe.com portal to expose and fight corruption, was another report (23 November) that stood out, in terms of relevance to our daily encounters with corrupt functionaries in public administration. 

With reports. of corrupt appropriation of not just crores but hundreds of crores of public money surfacing in the news almost daily, it is time we as citizens sat up and decided to do something to stem the rot. Most of us read the reports about corruption and toss the paper aside, but as our Lokayukta pointed out in a riveting  interactive session on Sunday the 23rd at St Joseph’s college, we can no longer afford to react  with disapproval and move on – the bandh that we had on Saturday, for instance, has been described by the chief minister as a "spontaneous and voluntary protest by the citizens" whereas it was anything but.  I hunted around but could find no ‘citizen’ who declared that he/she had joined  the bandh "voluntarily" (except for goondas  — or ‘party workers’ mobilised for ‘action’ — who take advantage of such situations and throw stones or set tyres on fire)

I hunted around because I was a victim myself, made to alight from a bus one stop after I purchased a ticket, and forced to walk back, not by agitated mobs but by the bus conductor and driver, who then merrily drove off in the same direction, while foreign visitors, elderly commuters and children trudged past. A government exists primarily to serve and protect the citizens, not to inconvenience them through a bandh.

And as Justice Santosh Hegde pointed out, the governor had not prosecuted the CM, he had merely sanctioned the process (which could have culminated in a finding that exonerated the CM, if the facts supported such a conclusion) Here is where we as citizens come in — if we declared, in writing, through the letters to the editor column perhaps, that we were not "voluntarily" in support of the bandh, the CM’s claim could be shown up for the hollow contention that it was. "Speak up"  is a theme that gets more and more relevant with each passing day, and reports like this one, emphasise that point. We need to speak up. In numbers large enough to make an impact. That is what ipaidabribe.com is all about. Incidentally, 50 per cent of the complaints  from all over the country , about demands for bribes, on this site, are from Bangalore. Does that say something about our city administration?

"Freedom at midnight" and other stories published on 16th November 2010

The bunch of items posted online on 16 November  2010 all deserve applause, for their coverage of do’s and don’ts for apartment managements and residents, the report on how a group of  persistent residents managed to get their khatas ("Freedom at midnight" – a follow-up on an earlier report of 8 November 2010)  and an item on how plastic too can be recycled.

We rarely find these kinds of useful and socially-relevant items, in the mainstream media. But these are the kinds of initiatives that deserve coverage, because of their potential for impacting the lives of hundreds and thousands of citizens. That issue also included an item about bribes demanded at Shivasamudram falls, one of the attractions of the state. Shameful ? And therefore  worth exposing ? You bet.

The 18-31 July 2009  issue of the print edition included a story on how the residents of J.P.Nagar phase 1 and BTM layout got their areas cleaned and spruced up, thanks to their using a public platform with  local representatives of the city administration to bring their grievances and needs to the attention of the authorities. This is the kind of initiative that other neighbourhood groups could emulate. Footpaths and parks in ward 65 got neatened following a meeting attended by over 100 residents as well as representatives of BBMP, BMTC, KPTCL, BESCOM and other departments. We need such persuasive tactics replicated in all wards, to stem the decline in the state of our public spaces.

And lastly, the report dated 30 Jan – 12 February 2010, about how Koramangala residents came together just before the BBMP elections, to form a citizens council, to draw the attention of potential candidates to areas of common concern, including better traffic management  (which other neighbourhoods need, too) water problems, and waste disposal issues.

The initiative had a dual purpose – on the one hand, to create voter awareness (which is vitally important) and on the other, to put pressure on contestants through citizens’ solidarity and placing their priorities before those who want to stand for elections. Voter awareness is woeful even among the educated, partly because everyone is today busy running the rat race, and also because there is a widespread belief that "nothing will change". It will, provided we, as citizens start moving.

Put your hands together, readers, for these five pieces of good and socially relevant reporting. Perhaps you can make up a further list of your own, too. Go ahead  – applause never hurts!

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About Sakuntala Narasimhan 72 Articles
Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.