Earlier this month (June 5th-7th), a group of NGOs and activists gathered at New York to add inputs on what citizens want, in terms of “progress” and “development”. These inputs will be fed into the UN summit to be held in September 2010 (normally, in such international summits, only VIP voices are heard, not those of activists-on-the-ground).
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In fact, this global consultation was strictly for activists’ groups and whoever wanted to add inputs was welcome, there were no small or big voices. Those organisations that could not make it to New York could still send their inputs and suggestions, through a website. What do people really want? Is it 9 per cent growth in GDP (as finance ministers put it) or better water supply and schools, toilets and clinics rather than highways and malls?
In the same manner, supposing we try an exercise at the city level, and give thought to what residents want on a priority basis, as against what the authorities decide to fund (like the fancy rock garden at Lalbagh that so many Bangaloreans protested against, last month). A long list of priorities will emerge, no doubt, but there are many ideas that do not even call for huge investment of funds. Some in fact, don’t involve any money at all.
Here are some examples:
* Traffic – there were 4,865 buses at last count, making a whopping 66,660 trips per day across Bengaluru. It doesn’t cost money to instruct drivers of BMTC buses to stop close to the kerb at bus stops. This will prevent two wheelers from overtaking on the left and causing accidents. It will help commuters enormously, by reducing tensions and hazards, especially for the elderly and the infirm who have to run across oncoming traffic, to board buses. If drivers observed this rule strictly, life would become safer, less stressful.
Similarly, it costs no money to insist that buses drawing up at stops wait their turn in a line and halt properly at designated stops, instead of stopping some distance away because there is already a bus at the stop, taking in commuters. It is possible. I have seen it in England and Japan. Our administrators want to turn the city into another Singapore or Los Angeles. Why not start with a simple and basic discipline that will bring some order to commuters’ lives?
We need not wait for the BMTC supervisors to enforce these rules, we have traffic warden volunteers (even school and college students) lending a hand. How about forming another corps, in each ward or neighbourhood, to ‘clean’ up the current chaos? That goes for observing an orderly queue by us commuters, too, at stopS.
* Garbage – ‘Clean up’ brings to mind another point — We (and that includes educated residents, those earning well, the well-dressed, college students and so on) not only generate 2,500 tonnes of garbage per day, but strew it around, mindlessly, tossing wrappers on pavements, throwing cigarette butts and peanut shells along public spaces.
I have seen a woman wearing designer sunglasses in an air-conditioned car, toss a plastic tea cup out of her car window as she stopped at a roadside shop. We buy T-shirts at pavement stalls, and when the seller tosses the plastic cover on to the road we do not chastise him or her, we move on with our purchase.
If only we took a little trouble, we could reduce the amount of ambient garbage by a significant amount. And make our environment healthier, cleaner, a little less filthy. It costs nothing. Can residents associations ask for the return of the garbage bin which the corporation removed as a “beautification” measure? It is not beautiful when mounds of garbage lie piled by the wayside, with dogs and cows rummaging in them. Let’s have a garbage-free cityscape before we aim for a signal free corridor to the airport.
* Noise – A few weeks ago, the city observed a one-day “no honking” initiative. A small report in the papers the next morning, and that was the end of it. Next time the driver of a BMTC bus hits the horn, step up to him and tell him what you think of noise pollution. That goes for two-wheeler riders who zoom noisily around with the silencer off. Someone, please tell them it is crass, vulgar, offensive and sickening. There is a tunnel in Disneyland in California which is full of noise and terrifying sounds. Are we heading that way, as a city?
* Boycott – Most of us tut-tutted over the Bhopal judgment this month, some joined activists’ discussions on the repercussions, some wrote angry letters to the papers, a few organised protest meetings. What one could do, apart from these reactions, is to use boycott. We Indians used boycott as an effective means of driving out colonial rulers, we can now use it to penalise death-dealing multinationals. In the wake of the Bhopal leak thousands of us boycotted the red dry cell batteries manufactured by Carbide. Boycott costs nothing but can be very effective.
Add your own ideas to these four, or adopt them yourself in your own neighbourhoods, and we can make a significant difference to namma ooru. Without spending a rupee. ⊕