Sunday, September 06, 2009

DON’T DARE TO ENCROACH

DON’T DARE TO ENCROACH
Ravindranath Guru has filed more than 300 RTI applications seeking details of building plans where he suspected encroachment and other violations. Nine out of ten times, his hunch has been correct, forcing BBMP to act
ATUL CHATURVEDI


There is something about encroachments that 65-year-old Ravindranath Guru cannot stand, especially when public space is concerned. And with illegal constructions in Bangalore being what they are these days, Guru has turned into a oneman army, fighting unscrupulous builders and their bureaucratic cohorts. As an ordinary citizen, Guru’s modus operandi is simple: He uses the Right To Information (RTI) Act to expose violations of building plans.
Ever since the RTI Act was enacted four years ago, Guru has filed over 300 applications before various civic agencies including the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) seeking information about building plans. What is more, he has had a superb success rate: In around 275 cases, he has managed to point out various building violations, forcing the BBMP to crackdown against those who have encroached on public space.
SOCIAL SERVICE
A resident of 24th Cross in Banashankari II Stage, and a retired scientist of the department of information technology, Guru started his crusade only after retirement. The moment
he realises that something is amiss with a construction that is taking place in his area, he would file an RTI application seeking photocopies of original documents. There have been instances where he was forced to file more than 25 RTI applications for a single case. After cross-checking, he would alert the authorities if his guess was right.
“I have spent half my life serving the government and attending to my family, I thought it is high time I give back something to society.” I thought of using the RTI to fight injustice and expose the bureaucracy which is handin-glove with building contractors,” said Guru, who was willing to shed his reticence only after much persuasion by Bangalore Mirror. The original trigger for his crusade was when he realised that the footpath near his house had been encroached on by a building owner.
FACING THREATS
“It has not been a smooth drive after I decided to use RTI,” added Guru, whose post-retirement life would otherwise have been a recollection of nice memories. He has received threats several times, but has chosen not to give up. Pointing to a broken glass pane in his house, Guru said: “Three years ago, my house was attacked by unknown miscreants. They pelted stones, damaging the glass.” He decided not to replace the glass, preferring to keep it as a memento of his fight against corruption.
“The quantum of corruption going on in the construction field is very high, and it is supported by BBMP officials. Once the construction plan is approved by officials, they don’t check the construction site. This is how corruption works inside the BBMP,” Guru said. But what miffs him most is the working of BBMP’s legal department. He added, “I have to file so many RTIs to get proper information about just one construction. For this, many times I have app r o a c h e d BBMP’s legal cell, but the response is pathetic. I have complained to the BBMP commissioner, but his priorities are different and he has no time to meet ordinary citizens.” He alleged that the BBMP’s vigilance cell, which is supposed to act on complaints related to illegal construction, has gone into sleep-mode.
ROLE MODEL
Guru has incessantly taken up cudgels against corruption and has turned out to be an inspiration for many social activists. In some cases, officials direct people in distress to approach him. Even the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) has appreciated his efforts. State Information Commissioner K A Thippeswamy said: “At this age, he is fighting against illegal construction and corruption in the department. His work is to be appreciated.”
However, Guru shrugs off the compliments. “This work has to be done by every citizen. People should come forward in a big way to fight what they think is wrong,” he says matter-of-factly.

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