Basavanagudi MLA L A Ravisubrahmanya, who is re-contesting hoping for a hat-trick, found some time to talk to us on his goals and work for last ten years in Basavanagudi. Excerpts of the interview:
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Basavanagudi is one of the oldest areas of Bangalore and you’re contesting for the 3rd time. When you contested for the first time, what was one problem that was unique to Basavanagudi and what is the status of that today?
During my first tenue the immediate problem that I could see was sanitation. The lines had become old and had to be changed. It was a great challenge because we had issues of flooding during those times. The Vrushabhavathi Valley goes through areas like Katriguppe, Bank Colony, Chamrajpet. Layouts had been developed over the Karithimmahalli Lake and Kempambudhi Lake which added to the problem. So in phased manner, we undertook desilting. We also decided that no sanitary lines wouldn’t run through the rajakaluves and stressed on zero flow of sewage water through them. Pipes of 600mm to 1200 were put in place specifically to take care of sanitation. The sanitation lines going through rajakaluve were closed off and rain water was running through it instead. We had another problem where people had used the rajakaluves as dumping yard. You could find even beds and sofas in some of them which obviously would block them! We planned water harvesting and created pits within the Rajakaluves for this to charge ground water. Filthy water can no longer enter the groundwater. During the rain the rajakaluves fill with rainwater and during other times, people can walk through it. Almost 90% of this project is done and remaining 10% should be completed very soon.
Another area that I felt need focus, was the safety of women. We installed 500 cameras in the constituency which is connected to the police stations. It was battle to get this going and I faced a lot of opposition. It was after raising it in the Assembly that I was asked to run a pilot project. The police department, including the Commissioner appreciated the programme. If you compare Basavanagudi to any other locality in Bangalore, there is no other place with so much live connectivity. Even our Union Home Minister has appreciated this. J George wanted to implement this in his constituency. As a result we have seen crime rate going down. I am not saying people will stop committing crimes because cameras, but there will be fear of being caught.
We also started an E-library to benefit students. Two of them are are functional – the first one at Vidyapeeta and the second at N R Colony. The third one will be inaugurated in Hanumantha Nagar next month. When we planned the first one, there are no separate funds for libraries. So I asked that a portion of the space allotted for an MLA office be converted to a library and retained one room on the top floor as my office.
Another thing we’ve taken up is an energy efficiency program. But the government really didn’t support the project. They appreciated it but supporting it was a another matter. They have certified that we’re saving 28-30% energy. We have installed transformers, an initiative in association with BESCOM, for streetlights that we’ve only designed. In 1st phase, on trial basis for 21 months, 30 lights have been connected to 1 transformer and are being monitored. Energy consumption, the turning off and turning on of street lights at the right time to avoid wasting power, all of them are being monitored. Energy savings, reduction of carbon emission are some of the uses. More importantly, there are complaints about when the streetlights are switched on and off. In some places, they would still be on at 8:30 in the morning. In some places, streetlights aren’t required at night. We shouldn’t provide surplus energy. We should only provide what is required. With this system in place, high voltage is regulated and low voltage is boosted. In 2nd Phase, we got a 30 lakh grant recently and did another trial.
We’ve taken up underground cabling work to move all the high tension wires below the ground. Some old areas of Uttarahalli are revenue pockets where roads are fewer. Underground wiring and AB cable if installed will reduce some issues. We also prioritised asphalting and desilting of drains. We don’t wait for a manhole to be blocked during the rains. Instead for the last ten years we clean before the rainy reason as precautionary measure so there are no problem during the rainy season. This has been beneficial.
Private education has become a costly affair today but we wanted to improve education in Government schools. We’ve opened a model school in Hanumantha Nagar. We had to construct a new building so it took some time. They have everything from computers, libraries to English teachers for every class from LKG onwards, so parents don’t have to worry that children won’t learn English in government schools. Skill development centres for downtrodden women are being set up, so that they too can find some work.
What about garbage collection?
We’re using GPS for garbage collection. The top brass in the corporation aren’t interested, but we’ve put in efforts and asked them for some funds so that we can show them what we’re capable of doing. Sweeping the streets shouldn’t be routine work. There should be some innovation. GPS monitoring hasn’t been done properly – is ignition on, is the engine running, all of this can be monitored. Even in our constituency, we’ve tried but not succeeded in monitoring properly. There is no accountability. Each ward has at least 20 vehicles/autos. 25-30% won’t even be there, around 4 more won’t be working.
When there is an inspection, they’ll bring other vehicles just for pretence. These guys also bill us for transporting construction debris and silt from private properties. This shouldn’t happen. There should be accountability. We (BJP) don’t have power in the government or in BBMP, so they don’t give me grants. In all 28 constituencies of Bangalore, Basavanagudi has received the least. Despite that I am trying to do whatever I can. We have taken help from retired government officials to conduct random checks on construction besides the regular checks that the government conducts. We are receiving help from welfare associations, we are working as a team. In a democracy, instead of giving the people what I think they need, I am asking them what they require. Health is also of importance to me. We’ve opened dialysis centres in N R Colony and upgraded the maternity clinic. We’re opening a dialysis centre in Vidyapeeta ward where dialysis will be done for less than ₹250. Not a lot of people capable of paying ₹800 for this. Personally, along with my friends, I conduct a health camp every week. Medicines prescribed by the doctors are given to the patients free of cost. Through CSR activity and help from friends, we have opened this free clinic. Also, we don’t have to give children anything other than education. If educated, they become our assets.
Gandhi Bazaar is one of the older markets in Bangalore and garbage segregation becomes quite a problem. Although this isn’t entirely within your constituency there must have been instances where this garbage is dumped in your constituency. Have you taken any initiative to encourage people to segregate garbage, not just in Gandhi Bazaar but in Basavanagudi as a whole?
Along with Corporation officials and welfare associations, we took some initiatives to educate people. We did two drives and went to people’s homes. There has been some change. The government made a rule to ban plastic but it hasn’t worked. The biggest thing plastic is used for is to dispose of garbage. Earlier I had suggested in meetings that there should be no pushcarts. There should be auto-tippers from where garbage should directly be transferred to compactors. Open lorries shouldn’t be allowed. They take these push carts around to every street and these points become garbage dumping points. Most of these carts are pushed by women. Some of them are pregnant and old and have other health issues. It absolutely inhuman to expect them to push carts up and down steep inclines (because a lot of our area were hills at one point) which weigh anywhere 150-200 kilos. There can’t be a worse state of affairs. Autos might collect wet waste on different days and dry waste of different days. But people are no longer interested in segregation. It is impossible without people’s participation. I have spoken to the Corporator in that part of Gandhi Bazaar and the MLA of Chickpet. On festival days, during Gowri Habba and Dasara, pumpkins and greens are dumped everywhere. But the number of vehicles on those days aren’t increased. There should be collective decisions. There is some initiative but people don’t have the will to deal with this. The source of the problem should be dealt with. If plastic bags are banned for garbage transfer, 75% of the problem will be solved. If people cannot segregate the ½ kg garbage in their own homes, how do we segregate the 300 tonne garbage from each area? It is impossible. I request people to co-operate and ask for government initiative. The money that we’re using now, if used correctly, can really make a difference.
You have been saying a lot about BBMP. How do you take the charge that MLAs interfere in local governance?
That’s a great question. People should understand who works in what system. It is people’s tendency to see even a parliament member like they would see a panchayat member. Recently someone asked me what I’m going to do about a pavement that has come undone in front of their house. There are 3.5 lakh people in this constituency. Corporators are here to deal with municipal issues. Yet people still come to MLAs. Of the work that people bring to me, 99.9% has to do with municipal issues. As a lawmaker and legislator, I have to read about what my participation in the government should be – I need to know about the agriculture policy, water policy, social welfare schemes relating to women and child empowerment – about how I need to involve and ask questions relating to these issues. People aren’t aware of any of this. If I tell people I am going to the Assembly, they would rather have me look into the matter of blocked sanitary pipes near their homes. They expect me to get this work done personally. Since people contact me about electricity problems, I have had 10 lakh calendars printed with the contact details of all the officials, and distributed it to the people. They don’t call the corporator, they call the MLA. It is a problem of public perception. Despite that my attendance in the assembly is around 98%.
You have one of the highest attendance in the Assembly – 94%. That is quite impressive. What is the impact of regularly attending sessions?
I am constantly participating and actively asking questions. Sometimes, I don’t get the opportunity to have starred questions and have discussions. I have spoken about endosulfan and education. Recently in a health discussion, about health insurance policy, I have spoken about what initiatives the government can take. Even in forums outside the Assembly, I have been debating and putting out my views and ideas. Every week, I participate in at least two debates. I get an opportunity to talk about the government’s failures here.
What is the one portion of governance and legislation that you think you’ve contributed to, and that you are proud of?
I have contributed to discussions on health and education. Generally, there is time allotted to MLAs from each party in Bangalore. Besides this, the strength of your party determines the time allotted to you. If there are 40 members from a party, a certain amount of time is allotted. And our leaders also have to discuss their own agendas and they end up taking most of the time. Luckily, if your question gets starred, you will get the opportunity for discussion. At most other times, questions get stalled and delayed and the issue is never addressed. I can’t ask questions at all times. I am personally interested in agriculture and forest departments. But they say that people in the field of agriculture should talk about that, or that those in the water belt should talk about that. The argument they make is that since we are from Bangalore, what problems could we have? In Belgaum, we had to raise ruckus to get some time to discuss issues about Bangalore. Including the speaker, everyone thinks that those who live in Bangalore are most happy and have no problems; only people in villages have problems. I am also a farmer and can speak better than them about the issues of farmers and how modern technological innovations can be used to better the state of farmers. But they don’t let me talk.
Once when I tried to talk about the forests and wild animals, they said “Today we are talking only about human beings, why are you trying to bring in elephants and lions? Only the people who live in these areas know about all this. You don’t have to take any initiative with this regard”. For example, 90% of the forest area is covered in weeds, no efforts are being made to remove these. We don’t get necessary fodder as a result. They provide a subsidy for drip irrigation. How much of this is being misused? Instead of giving this directly to the farmers, they come to understandings in the open market. If the people cooperate and stop approaching MLAs with civic problems like I mentioned earlier, instead of just going to the Assembly unprepared, we can study these issues in greater detail and do our work as required. We need some time to read up of matters and refer to what is happening in different states and countries.
You have had pertinent questions about property guidance value in Basavanagudi, BDA acting as a private organisation and Nadaprabhu Kempegowda layout, what do you think can be a solution to this problem? In terms of keeping a check on the mafia or anything else, what do you think should be the government’s role in this?
We are trying to curb black money. Guidance value is increasing because people pay Rs. 10,000/sqft, but it gets registered only for Rs.4,000-5,000. This is because of stamps duty and to get rid of black money. After demonetisation, this has come under control to a certain extent. The government has to take this revenue. When stamp duty comes down, value goes up. And black money can be controlled and fluctuations can be stopped. The initiative we can take is to reduce stamp duty and increase guidance value. Nobody will be affected by this except those who take bribes. An honest man can never compete with the prices and acquire property. If the dishonest guy is told that he has to pay 30% taxes on this, he will reduce the price. As a result, prices can be controlled, revenue can be generated and black money will also be curbed.
You have been pushing for the Basavanagudi Heritage Corridor since your first term, what is the status of that?
I have been wanting to create this heritage corridor for a long time. I discussed this Priyank Kharge (Minister for Tourism) again quite recently. Initially the government had agreed to provide grants, but they backed out. I wanted to do this for the sake of the legacy of Kempegowda. We don’t have the money or the cooperation, but once I’ve taken up a task, I will complete it. Luckily this time, we have all BJP corporators. But when corporators are from different parties, they have different intentions and agendas. In this confusion, work becomes difficult. If our government comes to power, and I’m sure it will, this work will become easy.
What are the initiatives that you’ve taken to promote public transport and reduce private vehicles? You had proposed parking lots in Gandhi Bazaar. What is the status of that?
Yes, I had proposed to create a parking lot near Netakalappa circle as there is heavy traffic here. But I didn’t get government funding. Like I said, I’ve received the least grants from the government. Nowadays there are 8 houses in a building on a 60×40 site or even a 30×40 site and everybody has cars. If people park on either side of the road, there is no room for mobility. I had proposed that we could build an underground parking lot below a playground near Netkalappa circle. The ruling government in both the State and in BBMP is Congress. They don’t fund BJP MLAs, they only fund Congress. No government should have step motherly treatment such as this. The MLA doesn’t belong to a specific party, he works for the constituency.
I want to build bus stands in N R Colony, Srinagar and everywhere else. I also want to build 50 free wifi zones. 3 are already functional in Dodda Basava Temple in Basavanagudi because students from BMS college come here, Srinagar bus stand and Ramanjaneya Temple. I am doing this with the help of friends, private parties and CSR funding because the government cannot be relied upon.
Do you think the perks, allowances and salary an MLA receives are sufficient to carry out the duties of an MLA?
People think that MLAs get a lot of salary and think that they are thieves. But we constantly have to keep moving around and attending marriages, death ceremonies, birth ceremonies and what not. If someone is sick or has problems at home, they expect us to give them money. Initially I had thought I wouldn’t take the salary. Now I’m taking it and giving it all away towards education to the poor. It is important to hire the right kind of staff in an MLA’s office. Until now I’ve not been able to hire the right staff who will respond to the people’s questions correctly. The government hasn’t provided any of this. It is unfortunate that everybody passes comments about how much money an MLA makes. An MLA might have to travel 150 kms across the constituency to attend an event. Who will give him money for this? He has to work 24 hours, shouldn’t do any other private business – people only see one side of the story.
Is this why corruption becomes inevitable in public life?
No, it can be avoided. But people like me might have to take loans to make ends meet. Just today morning, somebody took back a donation.
Do you think it is possible to manage an election campaign within 28 lakhs?
It is not possible.
How are you funding your campaign?
I am using my own agriculture income. I don’t put up flexes. Even if other people put up my photo on posters, I have it removed it. We are here to make a difference. Someone from Bombay recently said that bursting firecrackers is a must while filing nominations. But this is not something I want to do, it is harmful to the environment. By doing that, we are contributing to pollution. We should be role models.
In comparison to other BJP MLAs in Bangalore, you have kept a low profile. Is this intentional?
This has to do with my upbringing and the kind of environment I have grown up in. I am just like I used to be when I was a student in high school. I have improved after becoming an MLA – I have to start working at 6.30-7 am and I’m done with work only around 11 pm. I don’t know about other MLAs but I don’t have a family life. In the past 10 years, I have gone out with my family only a couple of times. I am not used to going to the cinemas or hotels. I haven’t even taken my children outside much. Even when I was a businessman, I would keep only the bare minimum of what I earned to run a household and give back the rest to the society.
What have you learnt from politics?
Despite circumstances, I should not change. I should not change my original ideologies and yield to other people’s will. I must try to impress upon them my good values instead.
What is your ambition?
The first time I had the goal of becoming an MLA. The next time I went to the party office and thanked them for giving me an opportunity, and said that if they wanted to give the opportunity to someone else, they could. As long as the party gives me a chance, I will keep working for the people.This is not some task that has been assigned to me, it is my responsibility to serve the people. I don’t have big expectations. I didn’t request the party for an MLA seat, they recognised me. I will take up whatever responsibilities are given to me. And I will keep in mind only the good things that people have done for me, not the bad things. My conscience is clear and I can sleep peacefully at night. I don’t know if others can say the same. In the first elections that I contested in, I had said that irrespective of whether I win or lose, what I will feel about the results will last only 5 minutes.
If this election throws up a nasty surprise and you lose, will you continue to work for the people or will you take a break from public life?
Even before I became an MLA, I was in public service(ABVP). I will continue to work for the people. Like I said earlier, my passion is agriculture. I might get an opportunity to work in that field, or spend a little more time with my family. My wife is involved in providing free SSLC coaching to 1,200 students. All this work will continue. It is not like I cannot live without all of this. I will take things as they come.
Why should people vote for you? What is your pitch?
I am only asking people to look at the work I have done in the last 10 years and vote for me based on that. I was even telling the Election Commission recently, they don’t have to worry about me. I will not conduct even a single meeting, irrespective of the number of people gathered, without the knowledge of the EC. As a lawmaker, I don’t want to break the law. I am only asking people to vote for me based on the work that I’ve done. I don’t want to bait people with bribes. You can say that of the 224 constituencies, I have spent the least. My expenses with respect to the elections have been almost non-existent. People and I have a unique relationship – we are there for each other in times of trouble. My work exists as proof for why people should vote for me. I have ensured that 14,000 people receive their pensions, I have implemented several social schemes. Every single day, from the minute I wake up, I am addressing issues that people bring before me. I think people appreciate this interaction. If they want my service, they will vote for me. The people shouldn’t vote to make me win, or to make someone the CM. They should choose the MLA that they think is right for them. They should vote in the interest of the state, the nation, development and their constituency.