Let's bash the govt, and read self-help in spare time | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Let's bash the govt, and read self-help in spare time

chandigarh Updated: Jul 21, 2013 15:51 IST

Three-legged race, lemon-and-spoon dash and, of course, antakshari - the leaflet has been delivered to each house, the focus areas are clear, the agenda is welfare. Whose agenda, and whose welfare, you wonder? I guess your area's Resident Welfare Association (RWA) isn't quite as pro-active as the one in my sector. Mine, in fact, uses the word 'active' in its name!

Or, if you're lucky, maybe your RWA has gone beyond mere leaflets, and taken a leaf out of the book of the Panchkula Sector-12 RWA.

In a tricity where knowing the name of the next-door neighbour is usually the limit of mohalla intimacy, it warms the heart to see initiatives where these Panchkula residents have not only arranged social functions but also developed an actual golf practice range and badminton courts, made the authorities change the transformers after frequent power cuts, and are now thinking of installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras for security in a satellite town notorious for frequent robberies.

The Panchkula Sector-12 RWA, in fact, counts installation of signboards as just another thing it did, even as most of its counterparts in the rest of the tricity deem letter-writing and statement-issuing as their primary jobs.

On most matters, criticising RWAs - or any NGO for that matter - only ends up bruising the inflated egos of many self-important people. But the fact of the matter is that most of these bodies remain like kitty parties, only registered with an office and bearing a letterhead.

When opportunities such as handling parks come, a handful of RWAs take up just 350-odd out of 1,600. For the majority of RWAs, the MC that they routinely curse becomes their favourite alibi as the battles against payment delays and water supply appear insurmountable even to associations representing thousands of people.

But, wait! Did I just say 'thousands of people'? Should the RWAs feel so powerless if they indeed represent so many citizens? Or are they just a reflection of the times when individualism and self-centredness are hardly seen as antonyms?

On the face of it, holding the flag for the do-it-yourself model runs contrary to the democratic norm of seeking more out of the government. But another favourite line of the online wisdom-mongers these days is: The best government is the one that governs least. Does that confuse you, too?

Overcoming the temptation of bashing my fellow, dormant citizens - who don't mind more expensive cinema tickets but are aghast when the neighbourhood garbage collectors seek a 10-rupee raise in monthly charges - I admit that besides being heartwarming, the Panchkula RWA success story can be seen as a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures.

Though not much is achieved by mere criticism and handing over memorandums drafted in passionate prose, social initiatives need dedication that is not as Sector-specific as, say, Verka booths. Besides, on the ground it helps to have your area councillor stand by you, like Lily Bawa has in the Panchkula case.

There are valid issues faced even by the do-gooder RWAs, like lack of tertiary water supply to maintain parks, or shortage of sweepers and unhelpful councillors. But there's no reason why every councillor can't feel compelled to help at least organised groups like the RWAs. Sadly, the profundity of that unity-is-strength fable is grossly underrated, particularly in Chandigarh, where old-time cubbyhole houses are finally making way for airy architecture but the opposite is happening to minds.

I am tempted to ask if you know who presides over your area RWA. Would it be even ruder asking you who's councillor? Do I sound too idealistic again? Maybe I should pipe down, learn to enjoy the three-legged race, and make peace by ranting about Modi and Sonia on the internet instead. Leave aside the 'W' and the 'A', even dealing with just the 'R' in RWA requires reflecting on our own selves. Who has time for that?


You may swear by Flipkart, dear reader, but when I need to know what Chandigarh is reading, I still trust the mild-mannered Uncle behind the counter at English Book Store in Sector 17. Self-help, I am told, sells a lot.