Two cities on either side of the Cauvery divide will be out on the streets this weekend. Demolition-hit Bengaluru will be out at Town Hall on Saturday while 2015 flood-hit Chennai will make its presence felt at Vallavur Kottam on Sunday.
On the agenda for the both citizen initiatives is to take up cudgels against two governments that do not seem to bother. With two months to go before the monsoon fury hits Chennai, citizen groups are worried that the city corporation has not yet got its hands dirty on the field.
And India's Silicon Valley, which saw more bulldozers in action than start-ups this month, is upset that a large number of middle class citizens have paid the price for illegalities committed by corrupt officials of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the civic body of Bengaluru. Their homes were built by taking loans or investing all their hard-earned money, with plans sanctioned by the same BBMP that now says it is illegal. The irony of occupation certificates issued by the same BBMP or worse, property taxes collected all these years by the body is lost on the government.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who is part of the Town Hall initiative, said, "The demolition drive is shameful evidence that illegalities have been committed over the years. Innocent home buyers are paying the price, losing their homes due to ad hoc planning and illegal constructions, bearing the cost of corruption and malfeasance. It is the right of citizens to demand accountability and compensation from the government which has failed to protect their interests.''
Following a diktat by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah that the flooding of 29 July in some parts of Bengaluru should not be repeated, BBMP has decided to reclaim 2000-odd storm water drains spread over 857 km, demolishing any construction that comes in its way. Several hundreds of homes and shops have been reduced to rubble in the last two weeks.
Namma Bengaluru Foundation, a citizens group, said that the effort is to push for the high and the mighty to be punished. "We want to ensure officials are charged for all their crimes, not just some petty officers,'' says Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation. It is also looking on closely at how the big builders have not been touched so far.
But the builders aren't amused. At a meeting of the city's top builders on Friday, defiance was on display. "But it is not a lobby. The only lobby I know of is a hotel lobby,'' joked Irfan Razack, CMD of the Prestige Group. Builders were upset that they were being targeted by civil society groups and spoken of as a corrupt group that will buy its way through.
"You mean to say people who built a mall are stupid? You mean to say they got no occupancy certificate? Baseless allegations have become the order of the day. Malls are an asset to this beautiful city," says Razack.
Chennai too is going through similar angst, unwilling to go through the harrowing time it had in December last year. The public hearing called 'Kelu Chennai Kelu' (Listen Chennai Listen) is a shoutout to all those Chennaites who were affected by the floods and to ask them if the administration has carried out flood prevention measures in the same areas to prevent a repeat.
"The situation is frankly worse than what it was in 2015. If we get the same amount of rain, we are doomed,'' says Chandra Mohan, social activist who is part of the team organising the public hearing.
Last year December recorded the highest-ever rainfall in a hundred years but it was also a man-made disaster at various levels.
The public hearing is a follow-up to the social audit that was done by NGO Arappor Iyakkam on some of the localities that were flooded last year and the city's waterways. "Chennai's water bodies, most of them badly encroached and used for debris dumping, just cannot handle the monsoon. We want people from all areas to come and tell us the situation in their areas. We are hoping the government officials also will turn up so that they can get first-hand feedback,'' says Chandramohan.
Bengaluru and Chennai, two cities with a similar dilemma. With mindless construction, greed and corruption having made a mess of the two metropolises, civil society is making a desperate attempt to salvage the situation. While one city has complicated the situation with a come-down-with-a-hammer approach, the other prefers status quo.
It is perhaps time to reset the SOS button.