Would A Good Work Ethic Have Helped ?

Killing the mandatory half-hour to 40 minutes stuck in the mandatory traffic jams on the Airport road driving into central Bangalore is much simpler now. For one, this writer is mentally reconciled to it, second, there is a spare book or an extra set of newspapers. No longer is one engulfed in the `state of panic leading to despair' syndrome that usually accompanies such unexpected waits.

The Indira Nagar flyover which will ease the situation considerably is still under construction. A court order should have cleared some litigation and work should have been under way, a month ago. Not quite. On the three occasions one has passed this site in the last three weeks, on one I counted three workers who seemed engrossed in, possibly, counting the number of steel rods that were used in the previous attempt to build the flyover.

A largish crane stands silently near by, its not even clear whether its in the building, renovation or destruction business. One expected frenetic activity, 24X7 flow of men and materials in order to solve one of Bangalore’s biggest logjams. Mistake, mistake. Possibly, they are working, between 10 am and 5 pm, when most government officials do, if they do.

Floods & Choking, Here Too

Its been raining in Bangalore and some areas on the Bannerghatta Road were flooded on Sunday (Aug 28), the local papers tell me. Angry residents from Bannerghatta protested the `pathetic’ state of civic amenities by descending on the roads and blocking traffic near the Ring Road-JP Nagar junction for nearly two hours on Monday morning. Middle class Bangalore is at it once again.

In a situation depressingly reminiscent of Mumbai, one learns that clogged storm water drainages are the reason. The Deccan Herald quotes K S Pai, the president of the Ranka Colony Resident’s Association. “We have made several representations in the past in this regard, but to no avail. Hence, we resorted to protest.” The residents have been asking the Bommanahalli City Municipal Council (CMC) to desilt the drains, but to no avail.

An estimated thousand families were affected. And many were stranded as waters gushed into their apartments. Two and four wheelers parked in basements were partly submerged, in water and filth. Office goers and students alike stayed back at home. Elsewhere in the city, manholes overflowed and brand new `test’ roads have been washed away.

Why Civic Agencies ?

Having lived through Bombay’s Terrible Tuesday, what happened in Bangalore on Sunday/Monday is obviously tame. Its not condonable and once again raised a issue that many people are now increasingly grappling with. Why do civic agencies exist ? What is the mindset of an average worker in a civic agency ? What defines their work ethic, their contribution ? Most of all, who or what do they work for ?

The simple answer is perhaps, themselves. A civic job is like most other goverment job today, often paid for or got through some favours. It becomes, as has often been documented, a vehicle for personal security and prosperity. It’s a way to do little and be occasionally accountable, as and when the shit hits the fan. Even then, chances are you are not, considering that your boss or bosses are equally unaccountable, uncaring and exist for the same reason you do.

Of course there are exceptions. Every city in the world is rewarded with a committed, honest, hard-working and determined civic leader at some point in its history. Thane, Surat, Nagpur, New York and London, all have had the privilege of rare civic leadership – one that has galvanized the work forces, turned `liabilities’ into assets and brought about radical changes in the cities they governed.

Many of these cities have also had the good fortune to have successors aspire to similar levels. Not so everywhere. Thane (near Bombay) is slipping back into the morass it was once in, Bombay was never lifted out of it. So, Bombay will await its turn, for leadership, direction and change.

Even The Public Sectors Lead The Way

As a `member’ of one of India’s recently liberalized, fast-growth private sectors, I know and observe how organizations work these days to survive in a competitive, globalised world. Forget private sector, even public sector companies seem to wake up every morning and work like they are faced with extinction. I refer to oil and gas companies, steel companies, banks and even electricity utilities. They toil like they are possessed, like there is no tomorrow.

Which is not to say that this culture of dedication and commitment has always permeated workforces everywhere. It has not. Not even in the private sector, in some cases only recently. Groups like the Tatas are classic examples of organizations that have shaken themselves up in the post-liberalised era, sometimes violently. Having regularly visited Tata’ headquarters Bombay House a stone’s throw from the beautiful Flora Fountain in south Bombay, I can catalogue how once sleepy and morose offices are today buzzing with activity.

Its no different in Bangalore. IT & manufacturing organizations, including in the public sector, work to world-class systems and processes. Particularly in manufacturing. Don't forget that in addition to the bleeding edge work being done by IT giants like Intel, Motorola and Texas Instruments, companies like Toyota Kirloskar make critical components for vehicles like the Toyata Prado just two hours away in Bidadi.

The Deadweight

And yet, while all these organisations represent one end of the work-ethic spectrum, the civic and state authorities, whose job it is to support all this, reside on the other. Workers across the country are working like never before (three years of continuous solid growth on most part of corporate India), we are witnessing a decade or two of momentous productivity, the sort that propelled the Koreas, Japans and Chinas into the next big league.

But unlike the Asian giants, we are being pulled back, by the deadweight of terrible civic infrastructure and services. The deadweight of a work-ethic that is in complete variance with the eco-system around it..remember the Bombay Municipal Corporation took two days off after Terrible Tuesday. A deadweight which is forcing organizations to keep backing up as much as possible, from power to other services they can control or purchase.

The solutions are not simple nor will they come overnight. And they can only do so if leaders, business and political work towards a larger cause. Bangalore is a cause, it’s a poster boy for India, the private sector knows so and exploits it. The political class (at least the local, present one) does not care though some politicians have, we know who they are. Bombay is a cause too, if only you looked at it like that. So is Calcutta.

But causes must become mission statements that translate into everyday action. Calcutta has much feeling and little action. My feeling for Bombay means I will not dirty it and contribute in what little way I can to it upkeep. I don’t know if my local corporator thinks similarly. The last I heard, she was protesting against excessive citizen involvement in civic issues. Whose fault is it, hers for behaving in a pig-headed manner or the citizens for not perhaps involving her better ?

Are We On The Same Page ?

More importantly, is the average civic worker or state government employee plugged into the same cause as you and I ? Does he or she feel what I am losing out when I spend an extra 40 minutes on the Airport Road or bust my spinal cord on the potholed roads of Bombay ? Can he or she be made to ? Without force ? Or does he or she not care because they know people will figure out how to `adjust’, with books, newspapers,long phone calls and of course spiritual and physical exercise.

Not necessarily. Of course its easy to blame civic workers or state service providers but maybe the matter deserves a little more introspection. Maybe it calls for civic and political leaders to talk more about these issues to the people who work with them so that they understand and feel rather than react. Maybe it calls for greater bonding together at the citizen level, for the common cause. Easy to write, tough to execute.

I could say much more, but will defer to someone in a position of power, who can act. But the next time I see a civic worker, maybe on the road outside my building, I will try and be a little more understanding, maybe empathetic to his problems, maybe exchange a word or two. Maybe that will make us both work together for a better city, today.


Anonymous said…
Didnt know you blogged till i read india uncut. Watch your programmes tho...
Most of your pieces of around 26/7-Katrina-Bangalore are themed around civic issues.
We cannot blame govts and municipalities for the mess we confront. If we really need action, we need to turn off the tap aka :stop paying taxes.
How did Delhiites get their power bills reversed (imho - the bses was in the right but delhi being delhi gets away with paying less for almost everything compared to other metros- but thats another story).
The Delhiites just stopped paying elec. bills till their issues were addressed ?
How may of us have the Delhi belly to stomach this kind of action against the BMC? Pritish Nandy may rave and rant and say stop paying taxes but you reckon he and his company would not have paid the September installment of ADvance tax ?
We need all local RWAs, corporate associations( IMC, BCC etc) to say :
ok, i am not going to pay any property tax and/or sales tax and/or octroi from say November 1, till these issues are addressed.
The day we take a collective call on this, we will have taken the 1st step to mending our infrastructure.
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