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Well-known formula for bringing in change world over is, if you want to change the system, be a part of it first. Lingaraj Urs, a top IT honcho, fed up of the problems in his area, wanted to change the system to improve governance and administration in his area. He decided to get into poll politics to do it. And he won.
To most well-heeled urban citizens, politics was thus far known as ‘the last resort of scoundrels’; good men and women detest politics. However, the recently concluded Karnataka Gram panchayat polls is perhaps the beginning of new chapter in urban-rural politics.
Lingaraj Urs secured 280 of 697 votes and won from Ward 4 of Kannamangala village in the Bengaluru suburbs. With this, he became a Gram panchayat member, who will play an active part in the developmental works done in the area.
Lingaraj, a B Com graduate from Loyola College, Chennai, is currently serving as the president and director of Genisys Software India. He is the only one from a villa community, while the rest of the Gram panchayat members are villagers.
He lives with his family of four, including his wife, a home-maker, and two daughters—one of whom works for Teach for India, and the other, a patent specialist who works for a multinational company.
In an telephonic interview with Citizen Matters, Lingaraj outlined his approach to the various challenges that he is bound to face as a panchayat leader of an area where 60% of the population lives in upscale apartments and villa communities, while the other 40% in villages that lack basic amenities.
Before the elections, you had told us that infrastructure, education, health and waste management are your main areas of focus. Let us briefly talk about each of these.
What are the key infrastructural requirements in your jurisdiction that have not been met? How do you intend to meet those needs?
I think they are very basic ones. We are not asking for something very outlandish. It is basic stuff like roads, streets lights, storm water drains and things like that… The up-market and upcoming areas of Bangalore lack all these basic amenities. That is what I meant by infrastructure.
Obviously there are many other things as well, but they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the panchayat office to which I got elected. [So I’ll be focusing on] things that are more local and fundamental and basic.
Would I be correct in presuming that the children in apartments and villa communities wouldn’t have a difficulty in securing quality education in a private school; so when you say your focus is on education, you are referring to villagers in that jurisdiction?
Yes, yes.. One of the things I am trying to do—my objective—is to bridge the gulf between the [apartment and villa] communities and the villagers. I am trying to look at ways and means of doing that. So one of things we could do is education.
We have some very eminent people who have been in the teaching profession in the past and are, for various reasons, either retired or whatever. We can leverage that into our schools. They do have a passion for education. A lot of people are doing it in their own little ways by going to schools and trying to be agents of change there.
Also, when you talk about education, it is also the infrastructure for education itself. For example, even basic toilets are not there in the government schools. It is such an embarrassment for the girl child. About two years ago I got a toilet built in Kannamangala High School.
Senior kids in class five, six and seven were sitting on the floor and bending over to write. So we have provided desks to three schools in the last year and a half or so.
How many government schools are there in your constituency?
I don’t have the exact number. But I think it will be in the range of at least eight to ten [in my panchayat].
Is there any deficiency in teachers and staff at these schools?
Yes.. It is an interesting point you have made. That is something to [deal with], for which I have collaborated with Teach for India. They have adopted 13 schools this year and are providing 33 fellows who will be [serving] as teachers in the Mahadevapura area. That is also something which I have started this year.. in fact, today.
Are any of the schools in your panchayat being adopted by Teach for India?
Yes, yes… Kannamangala is there. Seegehalli, Doddamavalli… We are adopting all of them.
And you also mentioned health as an area of focus. So what are the primary health concerns among the people in your constituency?
I think when I talk about health, it is not more about cure, but about awareness. People, because they don’t have access to reasonable health care facilities, don’t do much to get themselves checked. There are also a lot of lifestyle issues that cause problems and, in a way, drain the family finances.
Any idea about the number of government hospitals in your area and how well-equipped they are to cater to the needs of the people, particularly the village population, under your jurisdiction?
We don’t have proper primary healthcare centres in my jurisdiction. I hope we can do something about it. I’ve been talking to a couple of giant pharmaceutical companies. If they start providing some family healthcare facility, that will be great.
So you are looking at providing access to healthcare not through the government hospitals, butthrough other private efforts, you mean?
We’d like to, if we can, set up [government hospitals]. But I am still not privy to all details in the panchayat. So I am not sure what kind of budget can be allocated for setting up family healthcare centres by the panchayat. So I am not saying that we will not promote government hospitals. Yes.. if it happens, that will be fantastic.. nothing like it.
You also mentioned waste management, which is directly related to health. The problem of waste management is common all over Bengaluru. But, given that your jurisdiction is a peculiar combination of apartments, villa communities and villages, do you think there are any particular problems you face, which is not common in rest of the city?
Yes. Citizen Matters has also reported in the last two-three months that lot of waste has been dumped in the vacant lands in the Kannamangala area. The locals are letting out their land for garbage to be dumped. There is no segregation happening. In many locations, there is hospital waste also coming in, which is extremely dangerous and hazardous to people who are sifting through that to segregate the waste.
Any idea where all this waste is coming from? Are they coming from the surrounding areas or the city?
No, it is from some surrounding areas, it is not too far. We haven’t been able to identify the source from where it is coming in. But we are now educating the locals not to accept the waste on their lands and [about] the kind of harm it will cause to their health and their social well-being.
Are the apartments and villa communities inside the area segregating their waste and managing their STPs in accordance with the rules? Or have you noticed any violations among these people as well?
There is.. no doubt there is. Another programme has started now. This year we have very strictly started implementing segregation at the source itself. That is something we want to roll out to each villa or apartment community.
The challenge we have is the disposal side, where we need to educate the people who are taking over the garbage, on how to dispose different types of waste.
Where do you think will be a suitable place for a landfill for the waste generated in the apartments in your area? Because all that waste has to go somewhere.
I don’t think we are talking about landfills. What we are looking at is a waste segregation unit where wet waste, dry waste and plastic are all segregated and scientifically disposed of. For that, we now need to identify some land. We are hopeful that some of the locals will be magnanimous to give out their land to set-up this waste management unit.
I understand you have syndicated (teamed up) with two other candidates, Nagamma and Vijayamma. Can you briefly explain the nature of this alliance and what will be the roles and responsibilities of these other two candidates?
As you probably know, at the village level, in the ward which I contested from, there were types of reservation. One was the ST reservation. Then we have a general lady, and a general man. Like I said, one of my objectives is to bridge the gulf between the apartments and the villagers. And this syndication is another example of how we are trying to bridge that.
There are no syndicates one could vote for.. the ballot paper contained only names of individual contestants. It is for the voters to keep in mind that we three have teamed together to work on the common agenda of bridging the gulf between the apartment communities and the villagers. Nagamma lost the election, but she will still be working with me and Vijayamma on this issue, although not from the panchayat office.
How many members are there totally in the panchayat?
This panchayat has 16 members.
And how many of these 16 members are from apartment or villa communities, and how many from the village?
It’s just me from the villa community.
Your constituents include people from both ends of the economic spectrum. So how do you plan to engage those from the low income groups, as well as those from high income groups?
Well, the needs and the requirements for each group of people are mostly different. We need to address them as groups of people and not try to draw similarities in their needs. So that in itself helps us find a solution.
I suppose there will be some who are slightly apprehensive about the relatively rich, English-speaking people taking over gram panchayat as well. How would you allay their fears?
I don’t think we are talking about the rich and the poor here. We are talking about two kinds of people trying to find a peaceful existence in the same location, with all the basic amenities required for the two kinds of people. That is our objective.
Our objective is not to take over anything from them. And I don’t think it is the [objective] on their side to take over anything from us. It is not that at all.
What sort of panchayat documents related to records and decisions do you intend to make public?
Well, I will know only once I get into the panchayat because this is my first time there. So I need to understand what all happens and what are the rules, regulations and norms.
Also, are there any problems you have identified, where addressing them is beyond your authority as a panchayat leader?
You have an example?
For instance, you said you are not sure if you, as a panchayat leader, can build a government hospital yourself. Any similar issues where you know there is a problem, but, within your authority as a panchayat leader, you are not capable of addressing those problems?
It is not a question of being capable to address the problems. It is trying to see how do we address the problems. Some of the solutions could actually come from within the panchayat and the budgets which we have. Or else we will have to look for external sources, but within the ambit, the rules and the norms pervading for the panchayat.
Am I correct in understanding that you have no political background?
Yes, yes.. Absolutely. No political background.
Given that you had no political background and that you are, if I may say, an ‘urbanite’, do you think your victory in gram panchayat election is historic or is it rather a part of the routine?
I would leave that for you to conclude.
Thank you very much Mr. Lingaraj and good luck to you.
Thank you very much Mr. Kulkarni. I appreciate it.