Last month — The Lokayukta resigned. The government deregulated oil prices and bus fares went up immediately, and I tripped and fell at the post office and fractured a bone. These seemingly unconnected events have a common denominator, as you will see.
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Let’s go from the bottom up — my fall. I headed for the post office across the road, and was near its entrance when a jagged footpath tile caught my sandals and I crashed on the floor some distance away, flat on my face.
Onlookers came running, to help get on my feet and gather my scattered belongings (bag, purse and books). “The paving is so uneven, I too stumbled and hurt myself last week,” said one sympathetic bystander.
“These fancy, patterned diamond shaped tiles are a hazard, I don’t know why they replaced the old, plain, smooth cement or concrete surface,” commented another, when someone else added immediately, “These tiles were chosen because the son-in-law of a VIP owns a tile factory, didn’t you know?”
Point number one
Contracts for public works are given not on the basis of what is safe or good value for money, but on the basis of who bids and who (in the eyes of the administration) has to be appeased.
“And the tiles are laid so shoddily, look at how they are already coming apart, less than a year after they were put in,” said the man at the money order counter.
Point number two
Not just the factory owner, but BBMP contractors also execute sub-standard work.
Now, for the bus fare hike — petrol and diesel prices have gone up, so we need to hike bus fares, BMTC says, with an alacrity that is not shown when commuters send in complaints.
I had written more than a year ago, about how BMTC bus conductors routinely pocket small change and do not issue tickets. After a survey of over 360 trips I had also estimated that BMTC was losing on Rs 1 lakh per day, in revenue, due to this malpractice.
An administration with a shred of self respect would have swung into action to plug this huge revenue leak. Instead, BMTC has hiked fares. Why bother to penalise corrupt employees, when the public can be conveniently milked?
Yesterday, on a bus from Sanjaynagar to Majestic, a woman commuter who was offering Rs 2 as “ticket-less fare” was told by the female conductor, “Innu ondu rupayi kodu beku — ticket charge jaasti aagidey (give one more rupee, the fare has gone up).” The commuter paid up – she was still saving a rupee on the Rs 4 ticket she ought to have bought.
I still have the newspaper clipping stating that as proof of age for senior citizens wanting to use BMTC concession, they could use their PAN cards or voter cards.
Now BMTC says only a seniors card issued by BMTC for Rs 25 is acceptable. Why, unless it is to generate some more money for the corporation, at the expense of the public (instead of plugging existing leaks in revenue collection)?
As one senior citizen points out, many senior citizens will not bother to get the new cards, because it involves more effort than they can muster. Good for the BMTC, right?
Generating profits is the priority, not providing efficient public service. Why isn’t a voters card not proof enough of age? Pardon me, I seem to have this bad habit of raising discomfiting questions that our administrators dislike.
Point number three
You now see the common thread running through the disparate events I listed at the beginning, right? Corruption, in different manifestations. And wasn’t that what the Lokayukta’s resignation was all about?
Scandals involving a few hundred crores make news — roads, mining, contracts, property deals, land grabbing. The countless, quotidian, petty rip-offs that we the public face, adding up to many more crores in tangible and intangible costs, do not seem to count.
Why? Aren’t they all manifestations of the same arrogance, of those who now know that they can get away with cheating, big or small, with impunity? Especially if one has connections with VIPs?
A roadside fruit seller who was being harassed by a policeman who wanted her to fill his bag with fruit (for free, of course), asked me once whether she could complain to the “Lokayukta sami”.
The other vendors sitting in a row beside her, burst out laughing derisively. But at least, she harboured some shred of hope, however naïve. Now that is gone too.
If we, as educated, net surfing urbanites read the news of Justice Hegde’s resignation, turned the page and went on with our work, I guess we deserve the bus fare hikes, the petrol deregulation, the related inflation and consequent erosion of the quality of our lives. ⊕