Civic activism gets going, residents want answers

Mumbai, October 03 It all started with the election of ‘citizens’ candidate' Adolf D’Souza as a corporator from Juhu, giving impetus to the growing activism among civic groups. The stalling of the Bandra Hill Road widening project was the next milestone and vociferous opposition to the ‘caretaker’ policy for recreation grounds clearly indicated that citizens’ activism was here to stay. All this has now culminated into a campaign against the proposed redevelopment of Crawford Market.

Buoyed by the response, October 2 was an opportune day for residents and activists to raise the bar for making civic representatives more accountable. They have decided to organise a series of meetings to seek answers from corporators across the city — the first of which was called by Juhu Citizens’ Welfare Trust at Kaifi Azmi Park at JVPD Scheme on Tuesday and saw representatives of various residents’ association take part.

“We will bring corporators face-to-face with citizens and seek concrete commitments and guarantees from them regarding the development of the city,” said Anandini Thakoor, member of Khar Residents’ Association, at the meeting. “If we have voted for them as individuals, they are individually answerable to us on every issue,” she added.

This new trend of civic activism is gaining ground, moving beyond the Public Interest Litigations (PIL) and the Right To Information (RTI). It’s the right to question that citizens are now exercising. The mass ‘Jawabdya’ (give answers) campaign against the proposed redevelopment of the Crawford Market is a case in point.

Activist Shailesh Gandhi, who dug out information through the RTI Act, claimed that private developers stand to gain about Rs 1,000 crore from the redevelopment of the market. Several residents approached individual corporators, MLAs and MPs and about 85 of them empathised with Gandhi. But all this couldn’t stop the proposal from being passed by the civic body.
“The point is that such policies get cleared in committee and general body meetings where our 227 elected representatives are present. It is their majority which gives a go-ahead to such proposals,” Gandhi told Newsline at the meeting.

The politicians, who personally empathised with Gandhi, backtracked. However, even after being cleared, the proposal has seen politicians cutting across parties come ahead individually and promise to do something about it and not allow other market proposals to be passed in a similar manner.

“We do not want the proposal to go ahead and are working out ways along with citizens to get it re-opened and stalled,” Mohsin Haider, a Samajwadi Party corporator, told Newsline.

A similar campaign was witnesses in the recreation grounds issue, which was taken up by activists of ‘Citispace’, an NGO dealing with open spaces issue.

“We have questioned corporators by laying facts in front of them, and we are trying to get them to think on it. Only this can change the way in which policies are passed,” explained Neera Punj, co-convenor, Citispace, who also attended Tuesday's meeting.

Corporators too are becoming aware of citizens’ presence and indirectly appreciate such support. Said Congress corporator Jyotsna Dighe at the meeting, “Though we feel in a certain way for issues, we have to toe the party line. But if we have citizens' support, we become stronger and can make individual opinions.” Agreed Adolf: “As new candidates we are learning the processes. But if citizens take up issues and help to form a strong public opinion, they have the ability to change the mandate.”

Civic activism gets going, residents want answers