At the end of a recent article headlined "A right to walk," Gurcharan Das suggested encouragingly that citizens can make a difference to city life if they really try. "The starting point is to extend your circle of concern beyond your front door (as Yudhishthira did in the Mahabharata when he insisted on taking a stray dog into heaven)," he wrote. "You will discover that municipalities do respond to citizen pressure if citizens are united and relentless."
That’s really great to know. But he has probably not dealt with the municipal authorities of Namma Bengaluru. It is not for want of unity in adversity on the part of citizens that the city is in such a mess. Nor is it for want of people’s patience and perseverance.
Over the past few years Bangaloreans who have extended their circle of concern far beyond their front doors have used a number of different strategies to try and make a difference. Far from "sitting around and complaining," they have tried to coax and cajole municipal officials of various kinds at various levels in various agencies and departments into taking the steps necessary — all well within their call of duty — to improve conditions of life in the city in general and specific neighbourhoods in particular.
Some have intervened at the macro level of planning and policy in the hope that public information and debate will lead to more sound decision-making and more effective implementation. Others have intervened at the micro level of identifying and analyzing local civic problems and exploring ways to solve them.
Among the latter, some have contributed and/or raised funds to help the authorities do their jobs better. Several empathetic souls have kept in close touch with local officers, trying to understand their difficulties and to assist — in whatever way citizens can — in removing stumbling blocks in the path to progress. Many diligent individuals have offered their services — volunteering precious time and energy — to ensure that work gets done and done well.
Some citizens have made use of the Right to Information Act to shed light on relevant matters relating to urban development and governance. Others have staged protests, including rasta rokos, usually when all else has failed. Yet others, at the end of their tether, have turned to the courts for relief.
A few initiatives have worked — usually the least complicated and contentious ones, such as getting parks and/or playgrounds developed (though even these are not automatically maintained; local residents generally have to play an active role to ensure that they remain useable). Many more have lost steam after years of enthusiastic, energetic effort have amounted to little improvement on the ground.
I wonder if it would help in some way to document at least some examples of citizen action on civic issues in Bangalore — successes as well as failures (or, to be more positive, those that have not yet yielded the desired results!). Perhaps detailed documentation and analysis would provide clues to what works, what doesn’t and why — which, in turn, could offer pointers about possible ways forward. And maybe that will help ensure that those who do extend their circles of concern beyond their front doors will not forever be going around in circles!