I want to thank the movement Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB) for pushing me to attend the ward committee meeting in my ward Shanthinagar. I’m glad I went. Kudos to all energetic young people, I now feel there’s hope for Bengaluru!
On time, but low on public participation
The meeting started on time, which was great. But citizen participation was very low, with only about 15 attending. Hardly anyone from RWAs was present. I thought RWAs exist to push citizens’ agenda, so I was not sure what to make of this.
Of the 10 ward committee members, nine attended the meeting. However, the ward committee itself seemed very skewed towards Shanthinagar. There were no citizen representatives from Langford Town and other areas in the ward. Hence, mostly issues within Shanthinagar were discussed. However, now that we know the process, we plan to table issues from Langford Town, and hopefully, citizens from other areas of the ward will do the same.
Our corporator Soumya Shivakumar has been represented all these years by her husband. This was the first time I saw her, and I consider myself a relatively active citizen. Her husband Shivakumar is also a ward committee member, and he pretty much conducted the meeting. I didn’t think this was right. I think we, as citizens, should think about this issue. If we approve of this practice which is intrinsically incorrect, isn’t that counterproductive to a stronger democracy and transparent governance, which is what we are trying to achieve through these citizen efforts?
Residents question, BBMP responds
Initially, ward committee member Kathyayini Chamaraj explained the rules and the purpose of the meeting. Then members discussed the relaying of Nanjappa Road. They said there was no provision for footpaths, and that the road had been relaid without repairing the sewerage and water supply lines. Ward committee members also questioned as to who gave permission to cut roads to lay down cables, and who was responsible for proper relaying of roads. There were no clear answers to these questions.
Lack of walkable footpaths all over the ward was also discussed in detail. When the issue of street lights and women’s safety was pointed out to BBMP, they gave assurances and promised to invite the police to the next meeting for further discussions.
Pavitra, a resident of Shanthinagar, showed a sample of contaminated water from her borewell. Farzana, the Assistant Engineer for the ward, said that BWSSB would be invited to the next meeting to propose a solution to this.
Shobha, a ward committee member, suggested that we revive an old, underutilised BBMP dairy plant in Shanthinagar; to increase the number of cows there from 20 to 80, and provide free milk to children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. It was a great, inclusive idea, to improve health indicators in our ward.
We also discussed waste segregation, and setting up of a waste processing plant. Shivakumar informed us that land near the graveyard on Berlie Street would be used to install the plant, but didn’t specify a timeline for the project.Kathyayini asked why street lights had been changed, who sanctioned the funds for this, and how much was spent.
Shobha brought up the issue of four beautiful Ashoka trees axed in the premises of a government school in the ward. We wanted to know who gave permission for this. Shivakumar said permission was not granted, but he went on to justify the cutting of trees. I didn’t understand his logic.
I suggested that a website be developed, containing all information on our ward, for better transparency. J Srinivas asked that Hakku Patras (title deeds) of all properties owned by BBMP be made public.
The meeting exceeded the time limit, and a lot of ground was covered. In the next meeting, BBMP is expected to reply to all points raised, and report on whether they have responded to questions and resolved concerns.
There is much work to be done, but this is a great start. Citizens must step up in larger numbers to make our system accountable. My hope is that the ward committee will be more representative of all areas in our ward, and also include all demographic groups. It will make Shantinagar a model ward and a super-vibrant community.