Stack three matchboxes, and they’ll stay stable. Add a dozen more on top, and the pile will topple. Perhaps this ‘tipping point’ is what we as a society have now reached, as we begin a new year, where our responses are shaking up apathetic administrators.
Slowly, but surely, and with increasing frequency, we are hearing of action by individuals or small groups, raising protests and making a difference. A few such initiatives in namma ooru are worth taking note of.
Last month, the High Court ordered a review of BBMP’s record of granting permission for commercial buildings in residential areas. It took a bunch of citizens to get the court to issue this directive that violates citizens’ rights to peace and quiet in what was originally planned as a residential locality.
We have all seen such construction work, carried on with impunity for years, which slowly but steadily replaced residential dwellings with multistoried clusters of shops, restaurants and offices. The BBMP was complicit despite its own metropolitan norms, because commercial activity meant more tax revenues (and of course, more bribes collected for overlooking violations) That extra step that a small group took, to pursue and protest, made all the difference.
The commercial undertakings that work from Electronics City have their own story of how they have succeeded in fighting administrative ‘dadagiri’ from ‘service providers’. Electronics city was not served by BWSSB till 2004, the industries organised their own supply and shared the costs. After the BWSSB put in a connection and installed meters, they noticed that the charges were not tallying with the consumption recorded by the cluster, so the association of industries (ELCIA) alerted the BWSSB about the faulty meter and even paid for meter replacement.
Nothing happened for a whole year, till suddenly the water board slapped the association with a demand for Rs 1.77 crores as arrears for water consumed over the years, plus penalty, after changing the meter and taking the latest consumption figures as the norm for backdated demands. The board defaults on testing of meters, ignores users’ complaints, and then penalises them by imposing an arbitrary amount and even cutting off water supply for a day! The association fought back, filed a writ petition in the high court and has finally won its case.
For members of ELCIA, time is money, and yet they are quietly going about doing their bit in terms of assuming responsibility not only for opposing civic apathy but also feeding 5,500 midday meals in schools and planting 2,000 saplings annually, as their contribution to the betterment of the city.
A parking lot project at Lalbagh was put on hold after citizens’ vigorous protests in November 2012, while residents of Jayanagar third block saw to it that a sanction given to Empire hotels in a residential area was reversed. Another group’s protests led to the Agara-Sirsi flyover plans getting stayed by the court, last July.
Residents of Defence Colony in Indiranagar likewise, fought against commercial enterprises in residential localities and won their point. I remember yet another small group of residents near the ISRO headquarters in north Bangalore, taking turns to supervise the road laying work along their main road, to ensure that the work got done satisfactorily. Left to the contractors or the BBMP, it would have been a hash job.
From the eastern parts of the city comes another story about how a small group has managed to save the three Chinnappanahalli lakes (also known as Munekkolala lake ) in their neighbourhood, to make a difference to the lives of the residents of the area. Jai Prakash Singh and Prabhashankar Rai recall how the area around AECS layout near Marthahalli used to be a dumping yard, till they decided to pursue officials of the city administration (BBMP, BWSSB, MLA and area corporator) to restore a lake that used to serve not only as lung space for the community, but also drew thousands of other birds.
It had been left literally to rot because sewage water was being let into the lake. As chairman of the project for restoration, Singh put in the effort to see that the lake got restored. Sure, it took away a lot of time, concedes Rai, recalling how he would stand for hours at the site, to ensure that the work got done – but pitching in is the only way we can reclaim our entitlements and prevent an erosion of the quality of our lives. There are lessons here, for other groups, to show that positive involvement is possible and worthwhile. There are doubtless many other stories like these, from around the metropolis, that never make it to the mainstream media.
The residents of Mandur and other "landfills’ where thousands of tonnes of our garbage used to be dumped, rose after keeping quiet for years before reaching a tipping point that saw mass protests – and it did result in the BBMP re-thinking its garbage disposal practices.
"Enough is enough" is what all these protests, large and small, typify, as did the nationwide uprising over the Delhi rape incident. Rapes occur daily, all through the year, so why was it that this particular one resulted in such a mass response? Corruption has been an issue that all of us grumbled about for years, till suddenly Anna Hazare’s group gathered support on a scale not seen since the freedom movement.. If 2012 was the year of the ‘tipping point’ in terms of people’s protests, whether it was gender issues or civic apathy, here is hoping that 2013 will carry the momentum forward, to goad lackadaisical administrators and politicians towards better governance. We are like those lowly matchboxes, capable of toppling apathy in governance if we pile ourselves high enough.⊕