Sometimes when I visit places, I feel I’m lucky I don’t live there. But what about people who have no other place to go? I’d never given a deep thought about that. But today, while on a site visit from BNY, I got to see some worst parts of the city. I’ve always tried speaking to random people at the smoke shop or the roadside eatery. I’ve had talks with unknown people from various places on politics, public issues, business and movies. I’d seen places, people in trouble, people with no basic amenities. I’d never done a complete survey. And I had never understood the complexity of this kind of a problem.
Bengaluru Needs You or BNY is a movement led by Prof Rajeev Gowda, is an Indian politician and academic. He is a professor of Economics and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and a national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress. He is a Director at the Central Board of Reserve Bank of India and former Chairperson of the Centre for Public Policy. I’m currently interning at BNY under the urban action internship, where I’m taking part in Urban Governance. There’s another group taking part in Urban Design. Both groups look at issues and discuss solutions in their respective field. There was a field visit today to the Byatarayanapura ward, basically to collect data, to try and understand the problems people are facing there.
We headed down to Sanjeevini Nagar, an area with majority population being lower middleclass. The major issue we saw at this place was the leakage of a sewage pipe to the road. It was terrible. There was sewage water all over the road, in front of a house. It almost blocked the entrance of the house. It was stinking like dead rats. We spoke to the locals, told them we were from an organization and we’re here to help. I initially went along with what people told us and thought the politicians are to be blamed. Then when we spoke to more people and realized the actual problem. My views changed.
The BWSSB or the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage board, has laid underground sewage pipes in most of the area except for this road. This road was left over because there’s an issue over the ownership of the land the road is on. There’s army land adjacent to the road and army has claims over half of the road. And government can’t work on this particular issue until the city corporation or BBMP gets ownership of this road. That is why BWSSB or the Corporation can’t take direct action on the sewage problem. It’s a deadlock situation. It seems, until a few years back all the sewage water was let into a sewage pit inside the army area. Army didn’t have a problem with this because they had a diary there and the sewage helped the growth of cattle feed. But recently, the diary was shifted and the army started building houses for the ‘Married Accommodation Project’ and blocked the sewage line. Now, all the sewage settles on the road. And when it rains, it enters houses. When complained, the corporation sends a sanitary cleaning truck and clears some amount of sewage. It’s not easy for them to clear all of it. And it builds up again in a few days. There have been reported cases of Dengue and Dysentery. The worst part is that the drinking water pipes are laid underground and wherever there’s a damage or a leakage, the sewage gets into the system. People who stay here, can’t use the drinking water they get. These people can’t afford to buy drinking water also. There are children living there. The people here have lost hopes. They say that media has covered this, politicians have come and gone and left their false promises. But most people wouldn’t have understood the deadlock situation here.
A little while later we learnt that the local MLA was at Delhi to get this issue fixed. And it is not that easy because Army is not an easy agency to deal with on such issues. What looks like a simple issue, is actually more complicated. It looks like some grant of money by the government can solve this. It looks like the area is being neglected. But no. It’s the issue that’s complicated. And at times, no matter how hard our leaders work, it’s not easy. This issue has to go through a lot of people and agencies to be solved.
A friend of mine encountered a similar situation in another part of the ward. Here, about 500 houses of Bengali speaking immigrants, mostly construction workers live in a slum like area. They’ve been here for the past 20 years but they do not have electricity. They pay rent for the land where they live but have no papers for their houses and hence can’t get an electricity connection. Imagine, these people, construction workers have to pay 5 bucks for getting their phones charged. And this phone is everything for them from torch to a communicating device to a source of entertainment. This again is a complicated situation because the land they live on belongs to someone else and that person won’t be ready to give papers or any right to these people on his land. And it is not very easy to relocate such a big slum. There are issues like this everywhere and they’re not as simple as they seem to be. With some time and right leaders, everything can be solved.
These people who live in this kind of areas mostly are drivers, security guards, housekeeping staff. They’re an essential part of the urban economy. We can’t imagine a day without this class of people. Their issues are very important for a safe and healthy urban economy. And with movements like BNY, such issues can be analysed and reported. The gap between policy makers and the people can be bridged. More important, people like me can learn and understand the complexity of such issues before we blame the politicians or policy makers.
To me it was a great experience. It helped me understand a lot of things better and inspired me to do more social work.