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Civic Bodies And Civic Sense

Civic Bodies And Civic Sense

The collapse of Andheri Bridge and lives lost is sad news but not surprising or shocking because somewhere in India, by mystery or magic, a bridge will collapse or trains derail or roads cave in or if nothing, few ‘wilful defaulters’ will make their great escape. Who said only the Prime Minister is capable of giving us surprises! Don’t we have too many bridges in our country that might collapse any time! Then, why are our children still singing ‘London Bridge is falling down’? The “This too shall pass” belief of Indians is to be appreciated but the many unaccountable people who run cities ought to be made accountable. Ex gratia payments will not bring the dead back to life and excuses and blame games will not ensure safety. According to union railway minister Piyush Goyal, the last audit of Andheri Bridge carried out in November 2017 ensured that the bridge was not in a bad shape. Then, what caused this? Was the audit in bad shape? Or is the minister’s tweet an indictment of the audit itself?

Dug up roads, incomplete or encroached sidewalks, incomplete storm water drains, open manholes, unattended and hazardous construction wastes along river banks and construction materials and overflowing mega size garbage bins occupying the already encroached roads are a way of life to Indians. Civility is conspicuous by its absence. Nobody is complaining because they know their ancestors lived and died complaining. Jokes on civic bodies apart, elected representatives and bureaucracy just come and go, making their ends meet through contracts, old and new. As per any standard, roads in Indian metropolitan cities are to be re-laid after every drizzle. Conveniently , the road sequence and sidewalks bury the service conduits (pipes), electric cables and drains  making it possible for every other department to dig and leave it opened as and when there is money flowing. Frequent excavation on even well-laid footpaths make all Indians wonder if the LIDAR, drones and ground penetrating radar of the state departments of archaeology need an urgent upgradation. Many pedestrians prefer negotiating with all kinds of vehicles on road to specially designed sidewalks that are meant to be used by everybody except those who are meant to. Using a sidewalk seems to be a test of endurance by itself as they are fair game for hawkers, fruit stalls, for two wheelers who are ever in a hurry and for car owners who park their cars at their will and might.

Forget education and degrees, for no schemes or big talks or golden quadrilaterals or e toilets or sky touching statues will prove us to be a worthy lot till we give way for ambulances, fire engines and police cars. Civic sense is measured by the number of lives saved and societal wellness too.  

Spit marks, urine, vulgar graffiti, random garbage, dirt and grime aren’t acceptable to us but these still exists around us in spite of a few with brooms in their hands and Swachh Bharat on their lips. If public toilets and sanitation is articulated as a priority by city managers, basic support infrastructure like proper doors, 24 *7 water supply, electricity and sewerage will be taken of as they should be. Different departments with overlapping nature of responsibilities with lack of clarity and accountability with respect to sanitation and public toilets make the system a highly complex one. Mayors, municipal commissioners and elected representatives should be keen on developmental works in cities. They are still looked up to as a team who is supposed to tone up the administration of civic bodies.

Heard of homeless people with stable employment as street cleaners! Fort Worth, Texas proving worthy to its homeless by helping them to move out and be successful. According to Newsweek, few other states in America also hire homeless people to municipal jobs. Isn’t homelessness a major issue in our country with more than 1.77 million rendered homeless! Most importantly, garbage crews must be paid more than what the government think they deserve because without them cities would sink in filth.  Before we dare to judge the garbage crew as a less educated lot unfit for anything good in life, let’s try visualizing mountains of trash, diseases, flies on faeces, rats and pests, stink, squalor and lot more. Also, the morality of a city reflects on the trash it generates.

An overpass, bridge or new rail connectivity are all a mark of development and convenience. What stories do collapsing bridges, displaced rail tracks and incomplete overpasses have got to say? The recent flyover collapse in Varanasi has a similar storyline of negligence and lethargy leading to culpable homicide. Whether or not this amounts to murder is for human conscience to decide. In Chennai, it’s a sight to see just pillars that were meant to support overpasses along stretches of roads waiting to serve any purpose as governments dilly dally over ‘who does what?’. As of now, all pillars serve as ‘Poster Pillars’.  "There are 100 bridges in the country that can collapse anytime," said Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari in Lok Sabha. Name an Indian State and you will be updated on a structural collapse or train derailment that killed people. The only two things our ministers become proficient over the course of time in public service is in giving out condolence messages, shift blames and allocation of compensations.

After a safety audit of our country's bridges and tunnels conclude that there are a total 147 bridges and tunnels of various sizes "in a distress condition", is there any guarantee to life as such! If at all we tend to consider British-era bridges, like the one over Savitri River in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, as heritage structures, too sanct to be renovated or demolished, then close commutation over them.

Remember the vigilant Project Director and responsible manager of the highway part of  “Aurangabad- Barachatti” section of NH 2 (The Grand Trunk Road) or the biopic ‘Manjunath’ or Satish Shetty RTI Gallantry award or the one run over by a tractor in Morena, Madhya Pradesh or Lalit Mehta RTI Gallantry Award . Do we still have to harp on ‘Swacch Bharat’ or ‘Ache dhin aaane waale hai’? Will there be any takers for such gallantry awards is anybody’s guess because any smart brain knows the very idea behind introduction of such awards in the names of deceased ‘whistle blowers’. Road laying is big business in India, known by all vigilant people and departments. Enforcement authorities have a better grasp of the extent of dangerous business as this and sand mining. Even so, they have a lot of catching up to do.

Tamashas don’t end on land and roads but on air too. All of us have heard news and noises about delayed flights and people being deboarded, all for the sake of ministers, their aides and may be an aide’s aide. By watching, knowing and getting affected by such gestures, imagine the tainted picture of civic sense that gets registered in an Indian citizen’s psyche. Both civility and civic sense seems so far to seek when admission and recruitment scams are all pervading, no matter how and where leading to unnatural deaths to safeguard big names. Public and Service are two words that should never ever come close to a scam. After the naming and shaming, elite services haven’t lost their sheen because only civil servants get the rare opportunity to seek blessings from political bigwigs. Few other exceptions who dare transfers, threats and prosecutions play the game differently, sometimes to win and many times to lose.

How can we, few ordinary armchair scribes or for that matter few enthusiastic readers or mute spectators or victims, gather evidence against foul play when even the vigilant on-the-spot agents of law find nothing amiss? Still, we all know everything. Only when laws are obeyed for the sake of conscience, rather than fear of the consequences, civic responsibilities will be discharged as they should be and civic authority will be used prudently.

According to road sector experts, the fact that the increase in road length failing to keep pace with the number of registered motor vehicles is one reason behind a spike in accidents. Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of road accident deaths in 2016 at 19,320 followed by Tamil Nadu at 17,218 and Maharashtra at 12,935 minus those that went unreported. Is it because UP has always been the PM’s home state – of the 15 who have ruled India since independence, 9 were elected from there? The state has more members in Parliament than any other and these MPs wield considerable clout in national politics. Many CMs’ sole agenda is installing some statue or the other in every nook and corner of the state, whether they resemble the deceased or not is nobody’s concern. Few others channelize energy and resources into transforming our country into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Which government is worried about erratic power supply, absence of paani and sadak or the manufacture and supply of pan masala or gutka or other drugs that destroy human resources? ‘Spit anywhere, its India yaar’ is the ‘spit personality’ of every paan user. They just can’t help themselves when they see painted walls, corners and landings of public buildings and adorn them with drips and spurts of this organic medium, producing a peculiarly Indian art depending on their temperament.  So, law and order and civic sense? The less said about it, the better. We see states being pushed back to the dark ages by vigilantes in different shapes, sizes and attires.

What we have in place is a formula of governance that not only guarantees the profligate use of public funds but which also unabashedly impoverishes the already fragile state of the state and central government finances. How many more Modis are on the queue to take our economy towards becoming a pauper?

Sadly, there are a handful of public servants with tags and titles whose family, extended family and neighbours too believe that things that happen in India can only happen in the country of marvels as far as imbibing and implementing civic sense is concerned. Another handful who coexist are the ones who feel so privileged and proud about breaking rules, be it civic or social thereby forcing victims to believe in Karma. Once in a blue moon, Law seems quite enough and it reminds us of Rocky Y, the son of an ‘Ex’ politician, who was given a life term. But, we ought to notice the ‘Ex’. The invisible line between civic sense and blind power needs to be made visible to those with selective blindness.

Regardless of its crumbling bridges and structures, potholed highways, absence of transparency and basic necessities, India has much to offer. It begins with a God damn attitude, ‘it happens only in India’.

(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)