October 2 brings the annual ritual obeisance to the Father of the Nation, but in the last six decades we have not had a repetition of the kind of protests against injustice on the scale that Gandhiji undertook during his salt march or Quit India movement.
However, this time around, there is talk of a satyagraha, no less, by citizens of Bengaluru, because judging from the meetings I have been witness to over the last three months, patience is running thin. It is, many
residents are now saying, time to undertake collective action, to make our voices heard. Not against a colonial ruler – we are free – but as one impassioned speaker put it last week, “We are not free – from garbage and filth and the incompetence of a city corporation that seems fully helpless against mismanagement and complete lack of accountability, in ensuring rudimentary cleanliness and safety from disease.”
No change in garbage piles
Despite daily visuals and comments in the newspapers, the city has more piles of garbage today than a year ago. We pay taxes as property owners and residents, and are entitled to a clean environment, observed a gathering of representatives of RWAs held recently. Since last year, we have also been paying an extra SWM (solid waste management) cess, but after more than a year of discussions, in the legislature, in the media and even by judges in courts, about garbage piling up, we are nowhere near even marginal betterment.
Neighbourhood meetings have had lawyers (explaining about public interest litigation procedures) corporators (conceding helplessness against vested interests in garbage disposal tenders etc), medical officers (of the BBMP as well as hospital workers and independent doctors) and representatives of the corporate world, trying to seek solutions. The consensus is that our voices are not making a dent at all.
When the chief minister announced an ‘inspection tour’ a few days ago, the BBMP quickly cleared garbage and filled potholes overnight, but only along the route that the CM was going to take. The rest of us, even in upmarket neighbourhoods, can succumb to dengue, malaria, and typhoid, and risk life and limb when we set out for work, along roads with thousands of potholes.
Last month, a friend of mine was knocked down by a two-wheeler that swerved to avoid a pothole in Vidyaranyapura. He died. He was a Padmavibhushan – but potholes are filled pronto only for political VIPs. Others do not count. As RWAs and activists are saying, enough is enough. We have seen a series of deadlines for a “garbage free city,” since early 2012, with no political will to actually enforce action.
Why pay taxes?
Which is why there is now a burgeoning move to offer “Satyagraha” in the form of refusal to pay property tax which is due in April. Some associations are already implementing their own garbage disposal projects, even in small residential blocks. In which case, they are asking, what are the taxes collected for? Those subscribing to this argument include high profile achievers and professionals.
BBMP moans about shortage of funds, and is proposing various impositions to raise money. Citizens in increasing numbers are convinced that money is not the problem. Even corporators and MLAs, speaking off the records, have conceded that it is the mafia hold over garbage disposal that is the crux of the problem. If a city administration is unable to tackle this and restore the rule of law, where are we heading?
At the RWA meetings I attended, anger against the ineffectiveness of the corporation seems pervasive. At one recent meeting, it was suggested by one participant that we launch a Satyagraha on October 2, to claim our rights to a clean environment, as citizens.
I know an activist who sent a registered notice to the then commissioner Bharat Lal Meena with signatures from 28 families along just one road, seeking action because of the rising incidence of chikungunya caused by filth and mosquitoes. There was not even an acknowledgement. The Rs 27 paid for registration of the letter, was a complete waste. That official moved on, to another department.
Last year the High Court had threatened to supersede the corporation. Even that has not brought any relief to us. As one citizen remarked after last week’s meeting of neighbourhood groups, “Politicians and chief ministers come and go, IAS officers come and go, but the garbage piles have remained, a horrendous indictment of governance and administrative sloth.” So, the Satyagraha could vent the anger and disillusionment sweeping over increasing numbers of residents. Wait and watch for updates.