Pillana Garden and the areas that surround it may have a reputation for poor infrastructure and neglect, but here’s a story of a group of citizens that refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.

Photographs from around 20 years ago show an area with ‘kachcha’ roads leading to small single-storeyed houses, and no amenities such as streetlights or underground drainage. K. Sugumaran (52), a resident of the area, has compiled several photo albums and records over the last decade, the sheer volume of which could make a government database look amateurish.

Sugumaran and around 10 other residents began working for the improvement of the area a long time ago, and once their efforts began to yield results, more residents joined them, prompting them to register as the Hennur Road-Pillanna Garden Welfare Association in 2002. Sugumaran, who is joint secretary of the association, says residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) in the neighbouring areas too approached them, and 10 RWAs went on to form the Jago Federation.

Residents’ priorities

Over the years, with painstaking efforts, the association (which covers Hennur Road under Ward no. 60 and Pillana Garden III Stage under Ward no. 30) and the Jago Federation have managed to get civic authorities to develop roads, improve water supply, install streetlights and construct stormwater drains in several areas in six wards, improving the living conditions for around 2,00,000 people.

President of the federation A. Sivasankaran (75) says the formula has always been to convince civic authorities to work on the priorities of the residents. After initial hiccoughs, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) “found it difficult to say no to us,” he adds.

How they do it

“We take photos [of infrastructural problems], show it to them [civic authorities], and ask if they can do something about it. We tell them, ‘If you can’t do it, then give it to us in writing and we will go to the higher authorities’. Then they would tell us that they would get the work done from this or that fund,” Sivasankaran explains in a matter-of-fact tone. “With Jago, we can go to the higher authorities, but as an individual welfare association, we cannot approach higher officials.”

When the BBMP’s list of works to be taken up do not match what the ward residents consider a priority, Sivasankaran says, the officials have often changed the programme of works to include their suggestions.

Giving an instance of how the federation works, Mr. Sugumaran says that once a problem is fixed, the members take another photograph of the completed work with all those involved (including the lineman, who may have fixed a bulb) and give copies of the photo, along with a letter of thanks, to each of them.

This photo is then published in Jago’s monthly newsletter, which is now in its ninth year. “We haven’t missed a single issue,” says Sivasankaran, who adds that the paper is supported entirely by local ads and distributed to residents for free.

All work undertaken by the federation has been documented this way, and Sugumaran has kept every copy of the newsletter, titled “Jago”.

“We don’t believe in confrontation,” Sivasankaran says, but adds that all members of the residents’ associations wanted to end the “unequal supply” of water (many areas still get water only twice a week) and other infrastructural problems.

People’s budget

Asked whether he gets fed up with the continuous and tedious interaction with civic authorities, another member of Jago, E.T. Ponnukuttan, (77) says: “I take pleasure in it, if I can do something for the people… I don’t do it for name or fame.” He was among thosewho went to several slums around Richard’s Town and got the residents to list out the amenities they needed most urgently. These were included in a ‘People’s budget’ that they presented to the BBMP — a heartening example of a citizen group’s attempt to make its voice count.

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