We, the Citizens
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Seventy-three years ago we became Independent. But
(1) What have we, in our little town in our small district in our 20-year old state, done with that freedom?
(2) Do We, the Citizens, really rule ourselves?
(3) Does our Municipal Board keep us informed about how it handles our civic affairs or spends our money?
(4) Has it ever done so?
(5) And regardless of what has happened, why did it happen?
The quick answers to those questions are (1) Forgotten it (2) No (3) No longer (4) Yes (5) Because We, the Citizens, allowed it to happen.
When we were governed by the Brits, and the Second World War was raging, and we had Air Raid Warnings and Blackouts in Mussoorie, the Mussoorie City Board continued to do its duty to the citizens of Mussoorie. It issued its Annual Administration Reports. These were comprehensive documents, printed at The Art Press, Mussoorie which also published the weekly Mussoorie Advertiser.
In other words the Annual Administration Reports were official documents, with no security classification whatsoever, placed in the public domain, carrying the full authority of the City Board, and giving the smallest details of the Board’s functioning.
Here is an example:-
`“Page 2 Para 7 Prosecution – Including 50 cases of Food and Adulteration Act, the total number of cases instituted both by the Board and the local Police under the Municipalities Act and the Municipal byelaws, etc., during the year of report was 351 of which conviction was obtained in 142. Of the remaining, 14 cases were dismissed and 19 acquitted by the courts, 103 cases were filed as offenders could not be traced, 10 cases were compounded, and 14 were withdrawn as per department-wise statement given below”.
The tabulated statement following this paragraph was divided into 8 columns covering “No. of Cases Instituted, No. of Cases convicted, Cases dismissed, No. of Acquitted, Cases Filed, Cases Compounded, Cases Withdrawn, Pending Cases.”
These figures were in respect of the following departments:
“Toll and Licence, Public Health, Public Works, Taxes Revenue, Forest.”
This shows Responsibility, Transparency and Accountability as battlements against Corruption. So Why, When and on Whose watch was it stopped? The answers to those questions would make interesting reading.
It is also interesting to recall that all this happened when the British Empire had drawn inspiration from their often despotic predecessors the Mughals and the bare-facedly exploitive East India Company. (Incidentally, the Company’s days are still recalled when Mussoorie folk refer to the Municipal Gardens as Kampany Bagh and teams of Municipal sanitation workers are often called Fatigue Parties as a hang-over from the punishment squads of erring soldiers of the “John Company”.)
But those were the Bad Old Days of Imperialism. So what have successive Mussoorie Municipal Boards done about the Good New Days?
Well, for one thing we don’t see any annual Administrative Reports. It would be fascinating to discover what such Administrative Reports would have said about the much touted Dehra-Mussoorie Ropeway Scheme! Or, on the progress of the Jumna-Mussoorie Water-lift Scheme. Or, on the present status of the Mussoorie Sewage Treatment Plant Scheme. Or even on the Mussoorie Traffic Congestion Problem. And what is being done about our Forests and Elephants seemingly endangered by the very forces we employ to protect them? And now there is a brilliant decision that fossil-fuel guzzling buses will be gradually replaced by Electric Vehicles. But has anyone thought of the cost of setting up charging stations for these transports, or of their specialised maintenance needs, or even of their ability to ply on our steep mountain roads in adverse weather and dangerous traction conditions? Have such questions been thrown open to those who will be asked to finance the electro-transports: the Citizens? Or does our sarkar plan to launch the scheme first, and then open it for carefully guided, spin-doctored, discussion?
Many netas live in a self-delusionary world of eco-chambers, feeding on news they would like to hear. They are, however, answerable to the Citizens who have elected them. Netas are not Omnipotent, Omniscient Gurus. Everyone is governed by the Rule of Law even though some might wrongly believe that they can enforce their own, ego-massaging, crony-serving, Law of The Rulers.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)