Thursday , 9 July 2020

Transforming Infrastructure through Advocacy

One notable success story of this group has been the promotion of cycle days. Praja.in partnered with enthusiastic cycling clubs in Bangalore to create a city-wide viral buzz around the theme of cycling. On the one hand they partnered with enablers like the government and clubs, while on the other hand they reached out to citizens. They studied the public perception around cycling as an activity and tried to understand why many people shied away from this mode of transport. They began an advocacy campaign to increase the use of cycling as a leisure and exercise activity as well as a last mile connectivity option. The aim was also to draw the attention of city planners to a green mode of transportation that has the potential to reduce road congestion while at the same time, improve public health. This was followed up by specific events targeted at schools and offices. One visible effect has been that the government has now, on its own, started promoting cycle days.

One of the projects currently under advocacy is “Namma Railu” – a proposal to set up a suburban commuter rail network for Bangalore. The idea is to make use of the existing railway lines that run through the city and open these up for local and short distance train services.

promoting-cycle-days

Promoting cycle days

The site now has about 90 contributors. None of them are full time employees. It is not a structured organisation and the guiding philosophy is “Come…Learn… Do”. As there are no paid employees, their resources are limited. They, therefore, focus primarily on advocacy and leave the rest for others to take up. A lot of discussions take place within the group and the pace of these discussions has its own steam.

The idea is to make use of the existing railway lines that run through the city and open these up for local and short distance train services. They have advocated running a service from Bangalore to Ramangaram (six days a week), Bangalore to Neelamangala (Daily), Yesvantpur to Hosur (six days a week) and Yeswantpur to Tumkur (Daily). They had personally submitted a petition with 5000 signatures to the railway minister in June 2014 on this initiative. In parallel, they have been drumming up public support to get the constituents to influence their MP or MLA.

Another project taken up by the members is the Whitefield Local Area Mobility Plan (LAMP). So far, all mobility planning in Metropolitan area of Bangalore has been happening with the central city in mind. However, Bangalore’s future is mostly in the hands of its suburban areas like Whitefield and satellite towns. Planning for mobility for a suburban area has a few different angles to it. There are a few clear categories of needs like linking the routes coming to and from the central city to the suburban area. Then there is intra-area mobility (for example, how those cars going to new shopping areas in Whitefield make Saturday the most miserable day for mobility). Some commuters may work in a suburban area, but live even farther in satellite towns (for example, those living in Hoskote or Varthur may want to link to Whitefield as the job area). The group has prepared a blueprint of recommendations covering each of these aspects.

They have succeeded in taking up some important causes for advocacy from getting a PIL prepared for pedestrian safety, critiquing the Road Transport and Safety Bill, studying the Metro-BMTC connectivity issues to organising a club to promote disciplined driving.

One of the projects currently under advocacy is “Namma Railu” – a proposal to set up a suburban commuter rail network for Bangalore. The idea is to make use of the existing railway lines that run through the city and open these up for local and short distance train services.

Over the years, they have made several contacts with government departments. These are not necessarily top level officers but people three or four levels below. The group has found that these are the people who really make things happen on the ground. A lot of advocacy has later been taken up by the government in a big way. One example is the introduction of the Volvo AC bus services along the major routes in Bangalore. The group has been instrumental in raising public awareness of the various routes and making the AC bus services popular. Early on, they also advocated increasing the frequency along these routes. Today, the Volvo services represent one of the big success stories in Bangalore’s urban transportation landscape.

The group consciously avoids taking credit for any initiatives. The website does not feature any success stories either. As Jha says, “Usually in any project there are lot of people involved. It’s difficult to say who should take credit. So, on our site we consciously avoid saying –we have done this or that”. In this age of aggressive self-promotion by NGOs, it is refreshing to see a group of people like Praja.in doing good work while consciously shunning the limelight. They remain an example to others who want to take up similar causes.

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