In these 10 years, I’ve done my work neatly: BN Vijayakumar

BN Vijayakumar spoke about his work in Jayanagar constituency, the sad story of waste composting in Jayanagar, cycle lanes, public transport and more, in an interview done a week before he died.

Jayanagar MLA BN Vijayakumar died of a cardiac arrest, on May 3, 2018, right in the middle of his campaigning. What did Vijayakumar leave behind? What was he trying to do, and what problems did he have? What was his opinion on his constituency’s concerns like waste composting or cycle lanes?

We had interviewed Vijayakumar a week earlier, to understand his vision for the constituency. This was a long chat and it highlights his legacy too, perhaps setting the direction for whoever takes his baton, and for those who want to pick up the fights he was fighting and carry them forward.

You will be contesting for Jayanagar for the third term as an MLA. What was the vision you had when you came in the first time and how much of it have you been able to achieve in the four terms you have been here?

When I first started in Jayanagar in 1999 (I would say this is my fifth term), we did not have a huge volunteer group working for us. What we had were huge plans. We had identified about 16 areas which needed improvement in the constituency and much of it has been completed between 2008-2013. I would say about 90%. I can’t name them off the top of my head, but I can say we have brought in a lot of improvement here.

What was that one area of improvement that you wanted to concentrate on?

I wanted to concentrate on the basic amenities. Jayanagar is a 70-years-old layout which faced a lot of problems regarding the sanitary and the water lines. They used to get blocked and that used to cause a lot of trouble. So we’d planned to change the whole sanitary system in phases and we’ve completed at least 80% of it. We’ve successfully completed the water line. We managed to change the pipeline system for the entire constituency by giving new connections to all the houses. We have tried to do different activities with our parks and playgrounds, stadiums – to improve them and giving quality facilities.

The normal problems that we find in Bengaluru are related to garbage, water and roads. What is the status of garbage segregation in your area? What is your initiative as an MLA against these kind of civic problems?

The garbage problem is city-wide problem and cannot be addressed in a single constituency. Add to that, the BBMP and the State Government don’t cooperate with us. We have two organic waste convertors in our constituency which convert wet waste into organic manure. But what does one do with the manure that is generated? Neither the BBMP nor the State Government are not willing to buy it from us. Yellappa Reddy spoke to the Horticulture Department in Lalbagh asking them to buy this manure from us which didn’t happen. We spoke to the Department of Agriculture to procure manure from us and that did not happen. Now what are we supposed with this large amount of manure that being produced?! The BBMP doesn’t buy manure at all. The second problem is that BBMP will create facilities such as these (waste management centres) but does not provide maintenance – this has been our bad experience. There is no machinery, no equipment. If there are any recurring problems, the BBMP does not care about the expenditure.

The organic waste convertor generates water and electricity bills every month. But how does one take care of it? We generated about 1000 tonnes of manure and sold it to the resident welfare associations at Rs 2 a kilo to generate revenue, which would directly be transferred into the Executive Engineer’s so he could make the payments directly. But the officer had a number of excuses for us “This needs to be processed. I will need the DC’s signature and the AC’s signature.” Now the bills cannot wait for all of this. Finally a close friend of mine, Narendra Babu, for the last four years has been running this establishment and spends almost Rs 25,000 to 30,000 from his pocket. This BBMP is the height of nonsense!

But during my interview with Minister for Agriculture, Krishna Byre Gowda, he claimed that the Ministry buys the organic compost generated by converting urban waste to sell it to the farmers around the city.

Please ask him to do that in my constituency as well.

In Jayanagar, Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) had started a pilot project of bicycle lanes. It wasn’t very successful. But as an MLA, you realise that transport is an important part of city life. What are the initiatives that you’ve taken to encourage people to let go of their cars and embrace more non-motorised vehicles or buses? And how is the condition of BMTC or the public transport in your area? How would you rate it?

When they first started the cycle lane in Jayanagar, I had told them to lay it out for only about 15 to 20 kilometers (instead of the 45 kilometers that was laid). If they could manage this stretch properly then we should go ahead with the whole of it. But they seemed to be in tearing hurry. They put up sign boards and assigned policemen. But it didn’t work because our citizens started using it as a parking lane. The police monitored it as best as they could for almost a month. But this required one police man for every kilometer so for 45 kilometers, they needed 45 cops. Where do we have that kind of man power? That’s why it was impossible.

You can carry out this project in places like Cubbon Park or on either side of Laxman Rao Boulevard which covers just 4-5 kms in distance for people who would like to pursue it as a hobby. I am not sure it can be used by daily users who want to travel from their homes to their offices. It is very difficult to do this in a city like Bengaluru. Those who cycle are pretty much doing it at their own risk.

Public transport, on the other hand, has been one of the most irresponsible sectors in the city, particularly in J P Nagar. For example, we have major projects in the area like the BMRCL that are going on. The BMTC will divert buses that run on that route through the smaller lanes to accommodate the projects. But once the project is done, they don’t reinstate the original route at all. The process of doing that… my god! There is no department worse than BMTC. When we were constructing an underpass on the Outer Ring Road, buses were diverted. I must have written a hundred letters and visited their offices about 50 times for them to reinstate the routes. They come up with creative excuses for not doing that. Then finally they used the lack of revenue as reason, stating that every route should generate a revenue of Rs 1700 and so it wasn’t going to work.

I don’t understand what is the purpose of the BMTC – Is it there to collect revenue or provide facilities to the people? The previous head of BMTC Ekroop Kaur was working on some really good initiatives but she was transferred. In Jayanagar we are trying to ensure that no house will be more than 400 meters away from a bus stand. We also want the number of feeder buses to metro stations to increase in frequency. These are my plans for when I get elected this term.

Do you think that because you are from the opposition party, there has been apathy from the Government and the administration with regard to your demands? Do you have to be in power if you have to deliver these?

There is no such thing as Opposition party or Ruling party. The people in a department need to have a passion for their work, an attachment. To understand the problems faced by the people, they need to come out of their offices and look what’s happening outside. But they don’t come outside at all. Secondly, even if we write letters saying that this particular route needs a bus transport, they send a depot (manager) and he tells us that because the bus cannot take a turn on this road, we won’t be able to allot a bus to this route. But it’s not my problem! If the bus cannot take a turn on this road, it is their (BMTC’s) problem.

So many roads in the city aren’t wide enough and if you go to new areas, there are no thoroughfares at all. Do you think that the monopoly of BMTC has to end and more private players or more players need to be brought in or BMTC itself should bring in smaller vehicles?

I don’t think private players should be brought in to address the needs of public transport because then the issue of safety comes into play. I completely am against the idea of private players in this field. The roads, the street lights, the infrastructure belong to the government. Why should a private player be allowed to make a profit of it when the government is already at it. But the administration needs to buck up. If they provide the facilities needed by the people, then why should there be a problem with revenue? We’ve such a huge department and huge machinery but what work gets done? With the employees, we can run Bangalore BMTC beautifully. BMTC just needs to be more effective. They never feel that they should do something good for the people. If we motivate them a little bit, then Bangalore roads like the roads in Jayanagar and J P Nagar can be improved. In Jayanagar and JP Nagar, there are so many beautiful roads and they have all the facilities but I don’t quite understand what the exact problem is. I’ve tried to bring up this issue but it was of no use.

How many slums are there in Jayanagar constituency? In the last 10-15 years that you’ve been a part of this, what initiatives have you taken to better these areas?

I wanted to make Jayanagar a slum-less constituency. We currently have about 11 slums here. Some of the slums are situated near Ragigudda, Corporation Colony Arasu Colony, Indira Gandhi Colony, there are two in Gurappana Palya, in (Rajarajeshwari Nagar) there is a Kaveri slum and another slum beside it. Totally, there are 11 slums. During Yeddyurappa’s tenure as the Chief Minister, seeing the conditions of these slums, we released money for housing and built almost 2500 homes of Ground plus +4 floors. The problem we faced was in Corporation Colony is because they have no papers. If they had the documents, then it would’ve been easier to build houses for them too and improve their conditions.

Now we are trying to get documents for these people. If this is done, then we will be able to provide houses for them and improve their living conditions. There are issues as well like because most people believe that if it is private apartments then the quality of construction is much better. For public housing L1 tender is used to construct these house, we have no idea what kind of material is being used. Housing that is sanctioned by the Slum Board have even weirder problems. If they build houses they don’t build the sump – or if they build the sumps, they don’t provide Cauvery water. If there is Cauvery water, there is no borewell.

I have protested against these for several years but even though these people have houses now, they don’t have all the 100% facilities. In some places, these buildings are good. For example, in Sarakki there is a Sarangadhara slum and the buildings there is quite neat and is equipped with all the basic facilities. In Arasu Colony we’ve built around 200 houses and have to build another 100 homes there, and this area itself faces so many problems. Somebody filed a case for the land against what is an identified and declared as a slum by the slum board. This case has not been withdrawn or the stay vacated.

These people are irresponsible fellows, I tell you! Is it my job to follow up on these matters? I figured since this wasn’t happen, there was some government land nearby. So I asked the officials to build homes over there. These guys asked people of the land mafia to clear out the encroachment. This has created a problem for me. But for this, I would have made this constituency a slum-less one. We’ve constructed 2500 houses and sheltered almost 25,000 families in these 11 slums.

What do you think has been the areas of great success for you? What do you think are the areas where you’ve not been very successful in management of either your political career or the administration?

I’ve provided basic amenities for the people of Jayanagar and I’ve been 100% successful there. Water, roads, sanitation, power- in these areas, Jayanagar and JP Nagar do not see any problems. If there any problems, we do the widening or asphalting or new designs for medians. Other than this, in these 10 years, I’ve done my work neatly. I’ve improved the parks here, I’ve brought in rain water harvesting that nobody has done. Percolation pits have been fixed in almost 500 places. In education, we’ve built a building where a lot of activities take place and many children come and study. Coaching classes take place here, and skill development program takes place. In every ward, we’ve built one Bangalore One building and RO Plants. This year it will be the tenth year that we started coaching classes for SSLC students and almost 9,000 students have passed out. Now we’ve started for PUC also.

Are these coaching classes mainly for Government school children or is it open for everyone?

We concentrate mostly on Government, BBMP and aided schools. But if other children are interested, then we take them in too. We put up the banners in front of government and BBMP schools but if students from other schools are interested, we take them in. We do not discriminate between the children.

The Jayanagar Complex is ready now. But it is completely empty. The taxpayers’ money was invested in it, then why is there such a delay in moving in the traders?

When there was a fire in 2009, I went to Chief Minister Yeddyurappa and asked him to sanction the complex, but the design of the building took some time. I had spoken to the vendors of the complex and suggested that we bring down the entire complex except the Tower Block. Meanwhile we’d give them temporary shed near Jayanagar 3rd block while the complex was being built. But the traders did not want temporary sheds. So we decided to do this in 2 phases. In phase one, we broke down the Puttanna Kanagal Cinema and built that section. The plan was that after the traders moved into this, Phase two would begin. We were able to save about Rs 5 crores for this.

When the building was at the design stage, we invited the traders to give their suggestions on they wanted it designed. Because at the end of the day, it was meant for them. But none of them participated in this. The BDA went ahead and built it according to their design specifications. The Government had changed by then. When we asked the traders to shift, they had a problem with the way it is built. They say the shops are small, the path ways are narrow! We told them that solution would be found, and requested them to shift so that Phase two of the project could start..

But since 2013, this government has done nothing. I have met K J George ten times to discuss this and met the commissioner of the BDA multiple times. I went and met Ramalinga Reddy as well. Finally we were willing to compromise to the point where we agreed to build a new building also. But nothing has moved. The BDA Commissioner has to allot the shops and all it needs is a meeting. Nothing has happened despite me meeting him many times.

But what is the solution to this? What do you see as a solution to this?

We have to be very stubborn and tell the traders clearly that they need to shift tomorrow morning, demolish the rest and start Phase 2. That’s all. There is no other solution to this.

As this is in your constituency, what steps can you take to solve this? Why have you not been able to convince them?

That’s because I cannot allot the shops.

But why have you not been able to convince the shopkeepers to move? Maybe that way can you contribute to solving this problem?

I have done several meetings but then only the Government can allot the shops. When the Government itself is not able to do it, how can we? We can protest and mess up the issue so that our wishes and demands are granted. But I don’t want to that.

To run an MLA’s office, you need the help of a lot of people, structure, infrastructure. The perks you get, like the salary and other perks as well, is that realistically enough to run an MLA’s office?

Our Jayanagar is a compact little area. If you need to run your office efficiently, you have to work from 8.30 am. Our mobile phones are on 24×7. If there is some problem, people should tell us and we should try and solve it immediately. So to solve problem, there is no relation to the expenses.

But to run an establishment, you need money.

If the Government doesn’t give me money, will I stop eating food? As an MLA, didn’t I ever eat food? As an MLA, didn’t I carry out my public duties? As an MLA, didn’t I run my office? We have carried out all of this very efficiently that’s all.

But how do you finance because the requirements are a lot more in terms of an MLA’s office?

The Government gives 2 PAs and takes care of their salaries. With the work I do for my constituency, there is no problem with the money. Why is a problem for me to travel in my constituency? If I look at this as service, then I’ll work for this 10 times more. But then if I look at it as my profession, then it will just become work. I do not have a business or anything. Therefore, what I do is complete social service.

A lot of MLAs have told us that the money is not enough. Does corruption become inevitable in public life? What is your take on it?

Nothing like that. Primarily, the people should get the benefits. If I have to carry out quality work, I should feel it in my heart. And the money allocated by the Government and the BBMP, that should be used correctly. If that happens, then my constituency will turn out to be the best.

The election commission has a cap of Rs.28 lakhs for every MLA’s campaign. Is that enough for a campaign? If you look at it realistically, with the size of Jayanagar, can you carry out your campaign?

I have worked for the constituency with all my efforts the last five years. Now, if I just go to all the houses in my constituency with a pamphlet in my hand, then its enough to get their votes. This doesn’t require spending money at all.

If you have a meeting then you’ll have to arrange for food or the sound system or the expenditure on vehicles.

I am campaigning, but I am not spending a lot of money. How much money will you spend? If you ask me, 12 days should be time given and they should tighten the system even more. They shouldn’t give place for speeches or for rallies. Only a person who has worked in public service and is very popular will automatically win. When you haven’t done anything, then there is a need for all this publicity. You’ll give your biodata to someone you don’t know. Why would you give it to someone who knows you? Because your work will do the talking and they don’t require biodata for it.

How will you raise this money? You say that even 28 lakhs, the amount allocated to it should be tightened. 28 lakhs itself is a large sum. How are you raising it?

I don’t know about the other MLAs. I have my own money in my account and my party also gives a little bit money. That’s enough.

You are one of the seniormost faces of BJP in Bangalore. What is your ambition? What is your highest ambition in politics?

I don’t have any ambition. I am very comfortable with the MLA post and do as the party says.

This time, Sowmya Reddy from Congress is standing in opposition to you. She is the daughter of Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy who was also an MLA from Jayanagar before delimitation. She’s contesting for the first time. Besides experience, what do you think you have as an advantage over her?

In the past 10 years, people who elect their MLAs hope that their MLAs will work for the betterment of the constituency, attend to the problems of the people and he shouldn’t be corrupt. I have done all this. Who will they vote for if not for me? Ramalinga Reddy was there for 10 years, from 1999-2008. Other than basic amenities, he hasn’t worked on anything else. But I have done around 50 activities. From rainwater harvesting to education. They could have improved Jayanagar hospital but only after I came, did the condition of the hospital improve. The Jayanagar Shopping Complex started after I became the MLA. The stadium, the parks and playgrounds, the footpaths – all improved only after I came. They could’ve improved it, but they didn’t. Her dad was the MLA for 5 terms. Besides that, there is nothing more about her.

I was reading your LAD expense reports. In 2013, a modern dustbin was bought at a cost of Rs 5 lakhs. There was another entry for a solar lamp at Rs 60 lakhs, but an entire solar power panel was billed at about Rs 13 to 14 lakhs. At first glance if you see, it looks like there are a lot of discrepancies. How do you react to that?

I haven’t taken up any solar power plant project. What I did was like a pilot project in Bhavi Park. I was told that the lights there, are all run on solar. That was around 12 lakhs.They put up a windmill there and it ran for almost 2 years. Because nobody here maintains and takes care of the amenities, it got spoiled. After that, we’ve made everything solar. You can go see in our library, it runs completely on solar. Other than this, I have not installed any other power plant. I don’t know who told you that it is 60 lakhs.

But these are expenses mentioned in your LAD report. there is another entry about some solar automatic signal lamps. That has got a grant of Rs.30 lakhs.

I haven’t installed that yet. We got this proposal from the police. We are going to install it on 18th main, 38th cross, where there is a junction and another one on 11th main, 38th cross junction. But we haven’t got a green signal on this and hence we haven’t installed it yet. And that is not how the LAD funds work. I write to the DC about a proposal and he will have to look into it. The DC has granted it to the police and the police have given this to BEL and they’ve given the cost. Signal is not just one pole. This project was given either to BEL or the Police Department. I haven’t cheated anybody and taken anybody’s money. You can go ask in the DC office or you can ask the Police Department. This has not been done from our side, but its done from the side of the police and the DC. The DC tells the police department to inspect any project. The activity is carried out by the police.

You said you’ve done fabulous work in the constituency which is why you will win the election and the votes will come to you. But if someone manages to defeat you, will you take a break, or will you continue to be in public life?

When the counting happens on 15th, that time you see for yourself. Don’t ask me now, ask me later.

What plan do you have for your constituency for the next five years? What is it that you are proposing to do in Jayanagar constituency for which people need to vote for you again?

I will release the manifesto in a week, that time everybody will know. Why the hurry? You will know at that time.

Note: This interview was done on  April 27, 2018, a week before Vijayakumar passed away.

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