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With no one to trust, whom does the citizen turn to?

July 18, 2012 14:59 IST

These days when things are slipping a lot more than ever in the country, most citizens are in despair, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

It is hard to trust anything or anyone.

My few experiences and exposure to what has happened over the past few days convinces me that I may not be far off the mark. Others may perhaps share the same belief while others could shoot it down as my carping and fretting.

Let me list a few of the ordinary everyday instances.

An autorickshaw ride of 3.3 km and the driver indexed the meter reading to the chart and asked for Rs 37. A return trip by another but with a three-wheeler with an electronic meter read a mere Rs 27.50. The route was the same, the traffic conditions the same.

In this backdrop recall a few newspaper reports.

One, the authorities like each city's and district's Road Transport Office has not helped convert those with mechanical meters to electronic meters. Many who should have gone back to check the status of their rickshaws have been plying without the necessary approvals.

Two, then there is this series of reports that even the e-meters are not tamperproof and they are being tampered with.

Let us move to another development. A police station in Thane district found a decomposed body of one of its constables behind the police station 19 days after he went missing. The man was a driver to the assistant commissioner of police. And in Thane city, a police inspector has not been caught despite 11 warrants against him.

In a Mumbai police station, a young woman who was being stalked by a psychopath was told by the personnel on duty to avoid an FIR. 'Decent women ought not to be running around the courts. Just beat him up, but not so badly that it invites our attention.'

A retired college teacher visited a treasury office several times to get the approved new pension remitted to her account. The official, low-level but in a strategically significant seat, fobbed her off several times. When asked if it would happen at all, he said, 'Those who have been visiting us are getting their pensions according to the revised rates.'

Here, the 'visiting' was a metaphor for a successful visit which possibly included a bribe perhaps. There cannot be another inference. A revenue official had to visit the treasury several times to get it sorted out.

The other day, my grandson loved a ride on a stretch of an old asphalt road converted to concrete less than a year ago.  The autorickshaw ride -- referred to earlier -- was something he enjoyed as much as he would have had he visited an amusement park. The road had become a washboard and the mini-rollercoaster had him in splits.

Once off, while walking into a building, he barely missed an open manhole which can swallow the boy easily. Local residents tell me that gaping hole has been there for months. No one seems to be bothered, not even the two corporators who got elected by begging for votes -- perhaps even buying off some -- and the citizens have only risks they ought to avoid, not prevented by the civic body.

Now, here is the killer: The Thane Municipal Corporation does not even have a dumping ground of its own. It gathers the garbage such as it can, what with the sloth that department is prone to, and with garbage everywhere, which is hidden here and there. Now, the civic body is planning to ask the residents to pay Rs 60 an apartment to raise its annual garbage collection outlay of Rs 97 crore.

As policy, that is garbage.

Now let us move on to higher realms. High courts and sessions courts judges, mostly retired, have been arrested in Andhra Pradesh for facilitating a transaction between the Bellary brothers and the judges who were to order their bail. Would it be possible for the common man to believe in the judiciary?

The other belief that took a huge knock: the episode of the involvement of one television news channel in the molestation of a young woman, videographing and airing it, makes me wonder if the Fourth Estate too is trustworthy. I have been a media person for nearly four decades and this makes me wonder if, after the paid news, treaties and sensationalism, even that Fourth Estate could be trusted anymore.

Children fall into borewells and huge efforts are launched to bring them out, dead or alive. But we don't know if the borewell contractors and such others responsible for that neglect. The media does not tell me on the follow-up after milking the episode for the TRPs.  No one and nothing is safe. No one -- individuals, like the rogue rickshaw drivers and the rough officers who are supposed to bring those rascals down a notch or two, with our without a media-attended drive -- can be trusted.

The narrative can be as long as the sum total of all citizens' arms but what is the point?

Where do I turn to? I am, let me confess, in despair, much like many other citizens of this country.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who takes the ordinary citizen's woes seriously.

Mahesh Vijapurkar