Anti-corruption crusade: Battle hots up between reality of hafta and the ‘experts’; Baba Ramdev joins protestors

It is easy to be swayed by the candle lights at Jantar Mantar or the patronizing attitude of the media. But the reality is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take

South Indian Snack Centre (SISC) was a little hole in the wall behind the Jantar Mantar bus stop, when political demonstrations were held at the Boat Club Lawns, off Rajpath, till Mahendra Singh Tikait's followers changed the rules of the game as far as political rallies in Delhi is concerned, forever, 23 years ago. Political rallies had always held the city to ranson, trashing the pristine lawns off Rajpath was par for the course, but there were bigger issues-long satyagrahas could endanger the planning for the Republic Day Parade, winter afternoon siestas on the lawns were sacred for many who hung around in the Bhavans in those days, and most of all the music played at these functions was off-key and disliked by the swish set.

This evolved into the famous episode when Deep Purple, as well as other rock music was played more loudly as a response to the motivational songs played by the BKU Chaudhary. All political and other rallies, as well as protests, were subsequently banished to the faraway, sylvan area between Jantar Mantar and Ashoka Road, a very quiet and cosy part of town, with the traffic organised in such a way that it simply did not disturb any route, except those buses parked nearby, waiting to pick up passengers from Connaught Place and Central Secretariat, in the pre-Metro days.

With Kerala House next to it, Bible Bhavan behind it, assorted Socialist party offices in front, SISC could not but do well. About the best value for money in terms of basic southie veggie, it is now the second most popular place visited at the Anna Hazare "India against Corruption" protest, though you may not notice it on television. Its roof is used by television crew and photographers for top angle shots, and the repertoire served has been enhanced to include paneer dosa and capsicum utthapam, to augment the basic idli-dosa-vada-upma fare.

At a modest estimate the hafta paid to a variety of 'authorities' to continue business for a small stall like this would run into lakhs of rupees a month, and it is as simple as that. We can say what we want a few metres away, but the day we can stop corruption even a few metres away from this spot, is when it really starts showing results on the ground. Even the ragpickers present, for whom this is a bonanza as they go about picking up everything on the ground that has been thrown away or discarded, have never had it so good-even they have to pay a little something to be allowed to wander around inside.
 
And that is the simple truth from Jantar Mantar, where it is currently very easy to get swayed by the two main players present-the upbeat middle-class energy being best motivated to walk around with candles that are eventually placed on the ground; and the patronizing as well as supercilious attitude of the media, who are the heroes in a reality show situation, where everybody else besides them, in any sort of power scenario, is a villain. That is, other than the old man fasting on a platform and his group, who also are being pushed into corners by smarter and less tired adversaries, who have the power of the State behind them. Every time Arvind Kejriwal tries to get some rest, he is called to answer another bunch of questions, and then participate in intense strategy sessions before and after.

On Friday, yog guru Baba Ramdev joined the campaign, with a demand to hang the corrupt. Addressing the protestors he challenged the government, saying that if those running the system were clean, they should not hesitate to give capital punishment to those who are corrupt. He said the government was indifferent to the issue of corruption as the rulers were not affected by it. He also challenged the government on the constitution of the committee to work on the Lokpal Bill, saying it must ensure that the five representatives from the government side must be absolutely taint-free or else they would not be accepted.

Yes, the issue is simple and drills down to a simple point-corruption. How the corruption will go away is not important, since the people believe that all existing tools are as good as useless, so anything else new would be better. So up comes the Lokpal Bill, now part of a trendy song, also. That this momentum is because people want a Lokpal Bill in a particular format is something easy to believe in, if all we do is sit and watch the talking heads go into gabfest mode on television. The reality on the ground is that a large number of people are coming out to be counted and spotted on television, because they are simply tired of being hit by corruption at every step they take, or a drive they make. Large corruption cases like the 2G scam, the CWG scam and other multi-thousand crore scams merge seamlessly into the smaller 5-and-10 rupee corruption scams going on everywhere. All will vanish thanks to the Lokpal Bill.

But if the Lokpal Bill is diluted so it does not work, then what?

That the politicians and public servants are easily identifiable and perceived reasons for this anti-people step is clear, if and when it happens. However, this will be taking a very simple view of the larger intelligence that the people on the ground possess, and this is where the electronic media has lost touch. Nobody is forgetting the Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi episodes, for example. Incidentally, neither of these two worthies have come to Jantar Mantar as yet. As of now the television media is making the correct sounds as far as the crowds are concerned, by lending support to the movement. This, however, appears to be changing in ever so subtle ways, with the specialists and experts expressing views that are divergent from the popular sentiment.

On Day 4, the euphoria of possible "victory" may shift to stark realities, as Anna asks candle-holding marchers to start filling jails. And if this does not pan out the way it should, the villain in line will be the media. Especially the television media, whose 'experts' are being seen as pushing views that are divergent from what the people believe is the truth. This is the ground level observation in a movement that spans all sorts of ideologies from the Left to the Right and in between. Which makes it more dangerous, as this group will look for the next villain who killed their truths.
 
And their truth is simple. A vast number of laws have been used to push the public down, like the big pigs did on Animal Farm. Here is a chance for a single law for the masses, to try and equalize things against the big pigs in our society; but if this does not happen, the guilty will have to be found. And that, if you look carefully through the history of mass movements of this sort, often means the Fifth Estate.

Meanwhile, what is not lost on many in the crowd is that the price of energy is shooting up, the availability of water is going down, and the environment is getting increasingly polluted. It is therefore, also felt that a reduction in corruption could somehow ease things there, too. And if a Lokpal Bill is not introduced the way Anna Hazare wants it, then the politicians and their henchmen/women will, once again, be responsible for this. And that this was caused by the media, who are perceived and currently strutting around at Jantar Mantar, pretending to be the solution providers and opinion makers, rather than the mirrors.

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COMMENTS

B V KRISHNAN

8 years ago

Mr.Malik, your witticism sound nice -when they are about autos. But when it comes to mass movements, you are clearly out of your depth!! Well heeled people like you are least affected by corruption, so you would prefer to continue doing lip-service to the "necessary evil" of corruption. But here is a man who thinks that mere drawing room talk is not going to remove this evil. I support him, and hope sceptics like you will turn around sooner than later.

REPLY

malq

In Reply to B V KRISHNAN 8 years ago

Thank you for writing in. I don't think I have ever said that corruption is a neccessary evil - I have just pointed out that it happens to be there- and growing, like pornography, if you must use a comparision. And I on a personal level have been associated with Anna Hazare's movement forover a decade now- and would not have lasted so long if I did not believe in what he is trying to achieve. Whether he and his people achieve it or not is another thing - there also I have seen some truths - like people dying mysterious deaths at inopportune timelines. Such is reality. And writing therefore is the only truth left, of what I see. Witticisms are part of the larger picture. And I don't think I am a sceptic on one count - for every additional person like you who has a fire, there will be more energy. Truly, thank you for writing in - now let us all go out and help us make India a better country!!

Is not Bangalore ailing?

A city, where people walked for pleasure and cycled to work, has become a metropolis with motorized mobility at high speeds, which has made crossing the road a nightmare. It was once full of lakes, but today it draws water up 300 metres from the Cauvery river, as a result that the water supply agency is the largest electricity consumer in the state

Flying in to Bangalore's HAL Airport was such a pleasure. As you approached the city, you could distinctly see lines of road over earthen dams holding water in what Bangaloreans call 'tanks' or 'keres'. Even during summer, these keres, though considerably depleted, held enough water to keep the downstream green. You could spot tree farms of different varieties, and of course vegetable farms, that kept the countryside green. As the plane went over the city side, one saw housing complexes, usually ground-plus-one constructions on plots with trees on the margins or setbacks. You also came across highly dense construction with common walls and narrow streets, but depleted of trees. On landing, as you stepped out of the aircraft you got the whiff of typical Bangalore air, charged with ionized moisture from the Bellandur Tank within which you could accommodate another airport! This was as recently as five years ago. The garden city of Bengaluru used to be a town of 'keres' and mosquitoes. Today only the mosquitoes continue to thrive!

With the new Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) coming up at barren Devanahalli, the first casualty was this refreshing air, pregnant with expectation of a pleasant stay. Perhaps efforts to make the surroundings green and creating lakes will make this far-out airport a pleasant experience in the future, but since 'development' dominates over 'environment' most of the time, the whole approach road will get habited in the next 20 years, if not earlier. Already, the shining beer bottle façade of L&T factory is barely visible at Byatrayanapura now.

I used to traverse the Bellari Road, the National Highway NH4 about 25 years ago and the 15-km ride used to be such a pleasure on the bike-an eagle hovering above going past the Hebbal Lake, undulating land forms that make the greenery very visible from the road lined with rain trees, wonderful cloud formations and once in a while the bonus of a rainbow in the distant horizon as the sun began to descend. There were two railway level crossings where you waited for about 10 minutes to grab the opportunity to enjoy the surroundings and this had a very calming effect.

What do we have today? You whiz past the Hebbal Lake and I noticed the absence of the eagles who used to dive in to catch a fish or two. I see multi-story buildings along the NH4, vehicles speeding to and fro and hardly any conveniences for the benefit of people living on either side to get across to the other side of the road. NH4 is being widened further and an elevated road is being added as a direct connection to the airport. I am told that this road has a very high accident rate! However, I am optimistic and feel that the entire approach to the airport will become a pleasant experience in the years to come. They may provide semi-underpasses, semi-flyovers to let people cross the highway as they have done on Mumbai's Western Express Highway as an afterthought.

BIA has what other airports in Indian metropolitan cities lack considerably. And that is bus transportation to different areas of the city. At BIA you get the Volvo AC buses plying to various far-flung areas such as HAL Main Gate (East), JP Nagar 6th Phase (South West), White Field (Far East) and HSR Layout (South East), and these ply at regular fixed times. In comparison, Mumbai has a dismal bus service, whether it is to South Mumbai or to suburban Borivli, or adjacent Thane and Navi Mumbai. Delhi has one service to ISBT and the Metro to Connaught Place has just commenced I understand.

Majestic Circle is an integrated transport hub comprising of Karnataka State Road Transport (KSRTC) Station, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) Bus Station and the Bengaluru City Railway Station. Buses of KSRTC cater to essentially intercity travel, while the BMTC, the Bengaluru City and its satellite towns like Yelahanka, Kengeri-Bidadi and Jigni. BMTC runs a variety of buses-air-conditioned, and non-air-conditioned, Pushpak the express service and the big-10 and the BIA services. It also has a Rs40 travel-as-you-like day ticket on non-AC buses in the entire BMTC operations.

In comparison, Mumbai has the Rs25 and Rs40 day travel ticket for normal and express non-AC services across the entire network. While the maximum bus fare on Mumbai's BEST AC Express Service for the 50km stretch is about Rs 90, Bengaluru's BMTC charges Rs180 for about 40km on the airport service. In Bengaluru, the cab fare is about Rs600 for this distance from BIA, compared to Rs400 in Mumbai.

Is Bengaluru really ailing?
Firstly, there has been tremendous growth in the number of personal motor cars in daily use, thanks to the growth of the IT industry with the high salaries paid to a large number of young people and financial institutions giving car loans through very attractive packages. Most roads are about two-and-a-half-lane width on either carriage-ways and with a mixed traffic of buses, cars, goods carriers, autorickshaws, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles and indiscriminate stoppage and parking cause severe road congestion. So, the traffic police has decided to make some roads like JC Road, Nrupathunga Road, Residency Road and Richmond Road, one way, thereby making available five lanes and traffic can move at higher speed. The flip side is that it is near impossible to cross these roads without endangering one's life and limb.

Bengaluru also has its inner and outer ring roads, with three-plus-three lane main carriageway as well as service roads along particular stretches and several flyovers and underpasses. No doubt speeds have increased, but there exist bottlenecks which negate the time gains.

Road widening and the Metro Rail Project-Namma Metro-have resulted in the cutting down of so many trees, robbing the city of its coolant. Today, the city is barely cold in winter, compared to what it was 35 years ago, when even in the summer you had to protect yourself against a possible sudden drop in temperature due to rain showers.

Together with the speed of vehicles, honking too has increased, but autorickshaws have contributed tremendously to the noise pollution. In quieter residential areas, the traffic police have marked out one-way streets to smoothen the vehicular flow on the main roads. The result is not only have speeds reached undesirable levels on the narrow footpath-less bylanes, but also added to the misery due to noise pollution. A city where people walked for pleasure and cycled to work has 'advanced' to a motorized metropolis where children risk their lives while playing in these now dangerous bylanes. A case that comes to mind is the 100-foot road in Indiranagar and the 13th and 14th main roads.

The modern buildings with glossy, glazed façades are energy guzzlers. Bengaluru is at about 900 metres above mean sea level. While it was thought it was great to draw out water from the Cauvery river that flows some 300 metres below Bengaluru, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has turned out to be the biggest consumer of electricity, which it needs to pump the water up the height.

In an era when we need to conserve energy, lest we contribute to global warming and climate change, I see no evidence in Bengaluru on this score. If Bengaluru is not ailing already, it is undoubtedly racing down that road.

[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]

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COMMENTS

Vivek

8 years ago

Metro will solve everything. It runs on electricity and reduced pollution will mean cool city. Lakes are being restored, everyone talks about it.

PPanth

8 years ago

I agree that Bengaluru has become an urban nightmare. In my last visit I found to my horror that all the beautiful old trees in most of the shady avenues have been cut.
The same thing is happening in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, which is vying with Bengaluru in all fields, even to the extent of destruction of lakes and parks and avenues.

YASH VERMA

8 years ago

Yes, Bengaluru of old days the writer is talking about was a heaven for we north Indians too. I used to visit regularly on govt duty at least once in a quarter and thoroughly enjoyed the cool climate & serene atmosphere, a walk on MG Road (now a concrete jungle) and sitting in blossoming parks used to rejuvenate me. Not any more.

Nagesh KiniFCA

8 years ago

I had thought amchi Mumbai was sick.
Namma Bengaluru is sicker!
I've been a constant visitor professionally as statutory auditor of State Bank of Mysore, HAL and a host of private sector companies.

Yes Sudhir is right, the pre-landing circling over the airport was great sight and the journey into the city from the HAL airport was so pleasant.

Now with the cars and two wheelers of the ITO and BPO kids it is a night mare.

True Mumbai's BEST,CR, WR and friendly taxiwallahs have been making intra-city travel faster and cheaper.

The rude 'to shed' three wheeler autowallahs of Bengaluru are a pain!

Corporate governance: Private sector’s bribe-giving

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Last week, KPMG, the consulting major that specialises in forensic accounting, released yet another survey on bribery and corruption which claims to reveal “how the Indian corporate sector is battling corruption and at the same time looking for ways to play a...

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