Recent incidents of chain snatching as well as petty theft in our Vasanth Nagar neighbourhood made us realise we needed to do something. There were many dark spots due to the lack of uniform streetlighting – random gaps between adjacent streetlights, and tree branches covering the light. So, Citizens for Citizens (C4C), a self-help citizens’ forum, decided to carry out a ‘streetlight survey’ in Vasanth Nagar.
How are street lights maintained?
BBMP has ward-wise contractors to maintain streetlights. If the contractors come to know of a defective streetlight, they may do repairs, but this system is unreliable. BBMP can also get information on defective streetlights directly from citizens, through their helplines for each division. But, we observed that most citizens generally complain about interruptions in power or water supply, but not defective streetlights since they think it does not affect them directly.
When we complained at the helpline, there was no response. On complaining to the concerned official, corporator or contractor’s staff directly, we saw better response, but it was not enough. Their reasons for delayed or no rectification included:
- Work pressure on the contractor’s staff
- Heavy rain having caused damages elsewhere
- VIP complaints had to be attended (we have plenty of them in our surroundings!)
- Spare parts not available
- Vehicles parked under defective streetlights, etc.
Over time, we also noticed certain streetlights becoming defective repeatedly while many others worked for months without any problem. We needed good data on our streetlights – all kinds of data.
Unfortunately, the streetlight poles are not numbered in a citizen-friendly manner. Though each pole is supposed to have a unique number on it, these numbers are complicated and sometimes illegible.
How we conducted the survey
Our field work for the streetlight survey started on 17th June, and was completed by 15th July. For the survey, we divided Vasanth Nagar into four zones – Z1, Z2, Z3 and Z4, as shown in the map – and handled each zone separately.
We collected actual data from the streets only after dusk, when the streetlights were on. Since this was our first survey, we did not collect all data at one go – simply because we did not plan for it. We simply went around in a scooter, with one person riding, and the pillion making notes on a writing pad fixed over an exam board.
The survey team included Rajkumar Dugar, Ajay Tandon, R Aravind and Kishore Singh. It was heartening to note that Aravind, a milk vendor, was so passionate about the survey that he played a significant role in collecting data and in monitoring BBMP’s corrective actions later! Dugar, an engineer, Tandon and Singh who are businessmen, have been residents of Vasanth Nagar for long.
We collected data on the location of streetlights, and whether they worked or not. We also noted whether these were sodium vapour lamps or LED lamps – easily distinguishable since the former emits yellow-orange light, and the latter white light.
We covered each zone in just an hour everyday. Thus, our entire survey was completed in four hours, spread across four days. Our finding was that, of the 439 streetlights in Vasanth Nagar, 65 weren’t working. That is, around 15 percent of the streetlights were dysfunctional.
But then we realised there was an oversight – we had taken into account only defective streetlights. So, we did a second round to note existing streetlights obscured by tree branches, and new ones needed at specific locations. All data was then entered into a spreadsheet.
Approaching BBMP with the survey data
Once data from the second survey was ready, we shared our report with BBMP Assistant Engineer Sandeep Singh, and requested him for additional streetlights. Singh wanted to know the number of spots where new poles were needed to install streetlights, and those where poles were already in place. We then went in for a third round, collected and integrated this data too.
In the meantime, our corporator Sampath Kumar met us and assured that he would take action. We also met the contractor’s staff Saifullah, who was in charge on the field, and explained how we were complementing BBMP’s work. His team cooperated by repairing defective streetlights as well as installing new ones where possible.
On July 25th, we submitted our final report to Singh. The finding in our final survey report was that 49 of the 439 streetlights were dead. (This number was 65 as per our first survey, but it had reduced to 49 since BBMP had already fixed some of the lights.) New streetlights were required at 28 spots, and new poles were required at 14 of these spots. Another 42 streetlights had been obstructed by tree branches. Find the complete results of our survey here.
On 26th July, we also handed a letter to the BBMP Executive Engineer requesting 14 extra streetlight poles.
The response from BBMP was quick. On 1st August alone, six new streetlights were installed. C4C has also come up with a simpler, unique code that helps identify each streetlight by its location.
Benefits of the survey
With data on every single streetlight, we, as citizens, are now fully clued into the situation, and can report any streetlight-related issue accurately. Also, if a particular streetlight fails repeatedly, we can point it out for corrective action. Our data will also form a basis for future planning and work related to streetlights.
We hope the authorities will also respond positively, knowing full well the kind of effort we have put in. The BBMP staff and corporator, who had previously ignored or denied our complaints, started paying attention once we had the data. We’d also had discussions with all stakeholders to convince them that we were not complaining, but were only trying to help them do their job better.
After the success of this survey, a few C4C members have volunteered to monitor one or more streets on various civic issues such as power cuts, damaged roads, blocked sewers etc.
Currently BBMP is addressing all issues we raised in our survey report – rectifying defective streetlights, installing new ones where poles are available, and pruning tree branches wherever they obstruct light. Most works are expected to be complete within the next fortnight.
Around 50 percent of the repairs have been completed already. Nine new streetlights have been fixed where poles were available. We’ve been told that procuring new poles would take some time; we hope these would be installed by September end.
Citizens from other areas including Chitra Venkatesh from Kumara Park West, Sonal Kulkarni from Srikantan Layout (opposite Chitra Kala Parishat), and Suraj Chabria from Chakravarthy Layout have expressed their interest in replicating the survey in their respective neighbourhoods.
Sonal Kulkarni plans to go a step further, and carry out the survey using Google maps and GPS. With this, the status of each streetlight would be available on a map online. Once this survey is completed, we hope to adopt a similar approach for Vasanth Nagar too.
It is often said that self-help is the best help. In the present context it is much more so, given the huge gap between the expectation of good governance and good, citizen-friendly practices. One can achieve success alone, but success rate increases in a group, with wider exchange of thoughts and ideas.
We place on record our gratitude (in no particular order) to: Sandeep Singh (AE Electrical, BBMP), Suresh Mahadevaiah (EE Electrical, BBMP), Sampath Kumar (Corporator, ward 93), Saifullah (streetlight contract staff for Vasanth Nagar) and his team.
Part 2 of this series is a step-by-step guide on how you can conduct a streetlight survey in your neighbourhood