Thursday, April 20, 2006

My take on Mysore’s Miseries

We have it from MGP (Mysore Grahakara Parishat) that there are at least 3,171 residents who believe that Mysore's most pressing problem is garbage disposal. Nearly as many of them give bad roads a higher rating on the city's chart of public miseries. As MGP secretary S.K. Ananda Thirtha put it, "There is a virtual tie between garbage and bad roads for the title of Mysore's most pressing problem." He makes it sound, doesn't he, like a closely contested FA Cup tie between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal in erstwhile Calcutta.
Stray animals are the prime menace, say 2,707 respondents surveyed by the MGP as part of its 'Save Mysore' campaign. And then we have 757 residents who reckon that the worst of Mysore's miseries is mushrooming illegal structures. The image that emerges from the survey findings is that of a haphazardly built town with pot-holed streets, littered with garbage and stray animals that compete for road space with motorists.
Elected caretakers of the city, far from taking note of the findings, pooh-pooh MGP for making "mountains of molehills." It is not for nothing they call MGP a Maha Grahachara Parishat (a mighty nuisance). Maybe you don't need an opinion poll, billed rather grandiosely as 'Save Mysore' campaign, to highlight common civic concerns. Besides, MGP's issue-based priorities chart need not be common to all residents in every locality.
There is the theory of 'hierarchy of needs' that governs people of different classes in different localities. People are motivated by the immediate needs of their locality to be satisfied before they focus on higher needs. And to come up with a list of top five civic issues may not be the most sensible way to assess quality of life in any city. A more meaningful assessment could have been made by seeking public response to the question: "How is the city doing?" Are we doing fine, poorly, or not at all, on waste management, water supply and on an assortment of socio-economic parameters such as upkeep of public parks, heritage sites, road maintenance, cultural activities, transport services, public libraries, shopping facilities, price-levels, hospitals, bus shelters, public toilets, schools, art galleries, museums, eat-outs?
If MGP could think in terms of doing quality-of-life surveys, locality-wise, it would be of help to the civic authorities in addressing the varied needs of specific municipal wards. The survey findings would become valuable reference material to town-planners and social researchers. Such an exercise could help MGP remove its negative image and raise its public profile.
MGP, they say, had hoped to mobilize one lakh respondents in its 'Save Mysore' survey. That they couldn't drum up more than 14,635 residents, even after months of campaigning, doesn't speak highly of MGP's appeal among the people, whose civic concerns it claims to voice.
The city corporation and local bureaucracy appear to have scant regard for MGP, which is dubbed 'a habitual complainant.' I have heard skeptics say that if there is anything we need to 'Save Mysore' from, it is the constant bickering between MGP and the municipal body. There is a school of thought that reckons no civic cause can be said to have been truly lost until it is taken up by MGP.
It is one of Mysore's minor miseries that MGP, which often raises issues of legitimate civic concern, lacks the social clout to shape public opinion and influence action by the civic authorities. The need for MGP can hardly be over-emphasized, in a city where the civic body isn't known for public accountability; and its people are known for their remarkable stoicism. What MGP needs is public credibility. It needs to be taken seriously, by the people who have put up with poor garbage disposal, bad roads, stray pigs, unscheduled power outages, and erratic water supply, for years, with the conviction that not much can be done by anyone to alter the situation

(This piece was done in July 10, 2005, when MGP came out with the findings of its ‘Save Mysore’ survey. The issues highlighted then - pot-holed roads, garbage litter, and stray animals – haven’t gone away. Mysore survives, somehow. And MGP, at this point in time, is focused on ‘Saving Mysore’s Park’, from our politicians.)

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