Ownership of nobody’s property

The fever of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, launched on October 2, 2014 and the fervour displayed by the nation’s people at large to sweep the streets, mop the living spaces, gather the garbage mass as well as sanitise every nook and corner in both urban and rural areas across the country have currently come down on scale and pace witnessed during the days, weeks and months of the mission’s first year, yielding place in the columns of dailies and channels of television players to matters both a) Unrelated to the landmark measure of keeping the country free of dirt and b) the usual unedifying scenes created by the vote-seekers, a feature created in Karnataka from the word ‘go’ of Election Commission announcing the poll to the State’s Legislative Assembly on 27th March, 2018. The mission of cleaning the country’s environment got unwittingly sidelined resulting in fouling up the land’s public spaces in the form of noise pollution, road shows by the politicos disrupting order in daily life, erecting larger-than-life cut-outs of netas, not to forget mutually exchanging indecorous expletives, amusing some sections in society and annoying the rest.

Public spaces such as parks, roads, buildings housing government offices as well as schools and colleges belong to people at large in general but nobody in particular raising the question of both ownership and responsibility of keeping these public assets in a state of good repair. While the contribution of people in any given residential area to fouling these public spaces is not conceded, the responsibility of the urban local body to keep them tidy and the failure in the task are trumped up.

The components of urban infrastructure and also the civic services to be provided to the tax-paying society by the authorities make a long list. The pipes bringing treated water to the interior of the dwellings of residents, the drains in which sewage flows without clogging, the overhead cables carrying the indispensable electric power for lighting homes and streets, the shade-giving trees that have been standing all along the roadsides, play grounds merrily used for sporting activities without a care for their upkeep, parks at the disposal of morning walkers and what have you cost a bomb to be created and maintained, a fact that hardly anybody among the beneficiaries is aware of. There lies the point of nobody owning and taking care of everybody’s asset, either because of or despite the country being a democracy, thought to be by the people, for the people and most importantly, of the people.

Some may find the remark that the nation’s people are making a mockery of democracy as harsh. What do they have to say on reading in the dailies about theft of sandal wood, robbing the tusks of elephants by poaching in the forests, stealing river sand and so on, which are all decidedly government property owned by nobody in particular and everybody in general?

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