Taking issues head-on

He's the head of the Citizen Action Forum (CAF), an organisation of citizens and citizens associations who believe in offering solutions, not just pointing out the problem. Meet N S Mukunda.

Bangalore, as we know it now, could be an armchair critic’s delight. Congested, cluttered, overgrown, brown Bangalore has old-timers sighing in despair or ranting in rage. The younger Bangaloreans give each other earfuls about the city’s roads, traffic and lack of civic amenities. While more people pour in, the minimal infrastructure is stretched beyond help. The blame games continue. The mess festers.

N S Mukunda of Citizens Action Forum with former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Venkatachala.

N S Mukunda of Citizens Action Forum with former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Venkatachala. File pic: Sneha.

Meet a group of people who have moved beyond complaining. The Citizen Action Forum (CAF) consists of a group of individuals who believe in offering solutions, not just pointing out the problem. Culled out of members from Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), the CAF presents alternate budgets to the BBMP, convenes public meetings on critical issues concerning the city and campaigns for a participatory approach to development and civic management.

Recently CAF organised a public forum on the Sakrama law that was attended by representatives of around 175 RWAs in the city and sent recommendations to the High Court.

Charumathi Supraja met N. S. Mukunda, President, CAF to find out more about citizen-involved development and the CAF’s approach to a better Bangalore.

Tell us about your history of involvement in civic issues. How was the CAF born?

My involvement started at the ward level. We have a small federation of Resident Welfare Associations. (Abhudaya – Padmanabha Nagar). We had 12 RWAs working together on problems in our ward. We felt that if we were united, we would have a better voice. Soon, we had almost 45 RWAs with us. But as we were sorting out ward level problems we saw that city level problems could not be solved with this federation. We thought we should start a city wide platform.

Today, you talk to any of the service providers – the BBMP or BWSSB or any other. Though they have mismanaged the city’s affairs for the last 60 years, though they did not have the expertise or admit that they did not have the expertise, they will blame only one group for the mess that Bangalore is in today – the citizens. They forget the fact that all these organisations were set up only to serve the citizens. Citizens are supposed to be at the centre of things. Every public service organisation has its own agenda and the citizen is forgotten.

We did a lot of brainstorming about this in our group. We felt there should be a space where citizens’ views can be projected. Not that we should belong to the same ideological group or anything. We should have a space to express our views and make plans. That is how the CAF was born.

Your group consists of people from different backgrounds?

Yes. I am basically an engineer and a management professional. I’ve been running industries and had my consultancy firms. Our Secretary, Col. Matthew Thomas was associated with ‘PROOF’. That was the first attempt to see that the BMP presents its performance budget, that is, how it had performed vis-à-vis the budget it had presented. Every quarterly performance review was done along with the citizens. Suggestions and solutions were given. It went on for nearly 4-5 years.

All our members are people who understand that the problems Bangalore city is facing need local solutions. These problems are related to us, created by us, they have to be solved by us.

Solutions for the people, by the people. That is the CAF’s approach to development?

Development means different things to different people. What BBMP is proposing in terms of infrastructural facilities is very skewed. It favours one small section of society at the cost of providing basic facilities to the larger group. A society is civilised only when it provides all its citizens with a minimal level of facilities. We all need good roads, a public health system, sanitation, drinking water, whereas, there are proposals for an elevated highway costing 1400 crores. That is for 40,000 cars to move from one place to another.

There is a huge section of the population which hasn’t seen basic facilities for the last 60 years. What about the common man? Where is the public transport system for them?

We want to strike a balance. We want the urban poor’s needs to be taken care of. We want planned not haphazard development.

So what all issues do you take up and how?

By definition we can take up anything. But if we take on too many things we may not be able to achieve much. So we have tried to focus on certain activities. Last year, we presented a Citizen’s Alternative Budget to the BBMP. Usually citizens react to the budget after it is formed. But we thought we would present a budget that the citizens felt the need for. It was well received. The initiative was appreciated. But we submitted our budget too close to the BBMP’s presentation. This time we are giving them our budget in the first week of March. They are due to present in the end of March. It will give them sometime to understand what the citizens want.

We have taken up the issue of private and public transport. Nowhere in the world has the model of strengthening infrastructure to meet the needs of private transport worked. We have given in proposals whereby the usage of private transport is minimised because of a strong public transport system.

The tendency here is, we want the urban poor to serve us but not be visible. From CAF, we have given in a proposal that the migrant workers should be housed in a temporary shelter that will meet their needs. This should be the builder’s responsibility.

We are taking up the issue of taxing the right people to get in more money for civic works. Now, we see some change in the system’s approach to taxing.

We are bringing out a book on ‘water’ issues in Bangalore. We believe that with proper management there will be enough and more water for everyone.

Citizens’ Action Forum
#31/1, 1st Floor
MK Puttalingaiah Road
Bangalore 560070
Tel: 080- 26791436
Fax: 080- 26791457

How do you make the citizen more aware of these issues?

We have a campaign called Vote Bengaluru (VB). We have joined hands with many NGOs and other associations on the premise that the more the people, stronger the voice.

First goal of VB is to see that the voter’s list should be accurate. Then, to have a citizen’s charter. Moving beyond the election manifesto of the neta, we want a charter where the citizen is in the centre of things. And citizen interests are best known to citizens. So we form our own manifesto. We will tell the elected representative how to work with and for us. Next goal will be to develop local issues which will be brought up with the representative. This is the kind of participatory democracy we want to build. This is going to be a widespread campaign. We want vote bank based politics to go. We want issue based politics.

We are trying to eliminate the requirement for money power in elections by seeing that we have our candidates. By sheer volunteer force and house to house campaigns, we will tell the people that this is a candidate who is not making money through the election process, for himself and his party. This can happen only when the community is strong. 20-25 wards are sponsoring their own candidates for the BBMP elections this time. To prove that it is possible to win an election through hard work and service.

You convened a public meeting on the Sakrama issue and 175 associations attended. Tell us more about this issue.

We got a wonderful response for the Sakrama workshop. The workshop was a great learning experience for us too. If we tackle things properly, people will respond and get involved. As an association, we have to be inclusive.

We got a stay on Sakrama. Sakrama, a one-time amnesty offer, should not be implemented right now. Later, a humane legislation should be brought out to regularise constructions. Maybe a reasonable fine should be levied, but the real culprits should be brought to book. Usually, the real culprits are the builders, developers or the offices where the property was registered.

N S Mukunda develops layouts through his company Sneha Developers. They are now working on two layouts, off Mysore road.

He says his company is in the process of forming a self-regulatory body along with other developers, to develop layouts as per the law.

I am being hounded out in my own profession now. I am a developer. I told my colleagues we must develop a layout with proper regard to rules and regulations. The system cannot disregard the real culprits and victimise the victim further.

You must be making lots of enemies on the establishment side.

There have been many threats. Many of our members have faced them. We have the strength of our convictions. We know we are right. We don’t have any personal agenda. If a citizen’s venture like this should be successful, it is very important that we should not have any personal agenda. Our concentration is only on the issues involved.

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