Collaborative Efforts Transforming Damaged Roads in Bangalore

In the bustling city of Bangalore, issues plaguing roads and footpaths have long been a concern for citizens. However, a recent initiative sheds light on how communities can work hand in hand with authorities to address such challenges effectively.

In April 2015, Vijayan Menon and fellow citizens petitioned the High Court of Karnataka regarding the dismal state of roads and footpaths in Bangalore. Responding to this plea, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) asserted that 74 roads under its jurisdiction were pothole-free. Subsequently, the High Court directed the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA) to assess the condition of these roads.

Fast forward to December 2020, the High Court proposed the formation of a panel comprising paralegal and legal aid volunteers, alongside Civil Society Organizations like the Changemakers of Kanakapura Road, to identify and evaluate the streets under BBMP’s purview.

In a bid to enhance citizen engagement, Archana and Gautam from Reap Benefit Solve Ninja approached KSLSA in January 2021 with a novel idea - a WhatsApp Chatbot for citizens to report road and footpath issues swiftly. This innovative approach empowered citizens to contribute to the cause by providing crucial information such as location, images, and duration of the issue’s existence.

The collaborative effort saw the formation of eight volunteer groups covering Bangalore’s various zones. Citizens utilised varied channels to report grievances, which were then meticulously collated, cleaned, and analysed to furnish evidence for the High Court report.

Three fundamental steps were involved in this project’s execution:

  1. Creation of the ChatBot and Data Collection: The ChatBot was developed in January and disseminated widely, enabling citizens to report issues until January 31st. All someone had to do to report an issue was 1) Enter the Google Map location of the issue they reported, 2) Send pictures of the road/footpath reported, 3) Enter the number of months the issue has existed and any other descriptive information or suggestions they had. They could also choose to report road and footpath issues via an email to the High Court of Karnataka, putting in the address of the issue, instead of a Google Map location.

2. Working with Received Data: Data reported through the multiple channels - WhatsApp Chatbot, Solve Ninja WebApp, and email - was consolidated. This was then cleaned to remove inaccurate, insufficient and duplicate data points. Finally, it was organised on a zone-wise basis to note the number of occurrences and the organised data was presented in a tabular and graphical form to be used in the report.

3. Report Writing: To produce a report that would accelerate the process of solutioning, Archana and Gautam first consulted with the Member Secretary of KSLSA to understand what quantitative and qualitative inputs would be required. Quantitative data that was consolidated and organised, and qualitative inputs, including photographs of potholed roads, damaged, blocked and non-existent footpaths, arranged zone-wise, and suggestions to solve the issues, were incorporated into the report.

The project yielded invaluable insights and lessons:

  • Understanding the nature and pace of legal proceedings highlighted the importance of meticulous evidence gathering. The nature of work involves attention to detail, specific tasks and formal procedures. Although roads and footpaths are used by all citizens almost everyday, it was still necessary to formally and methodically provide evidence for it. The pace of work is inevitably slow. The petition was first filed in 2015, but the hearing to ascertain the conditions of the roads took place only in 2021.

  • Collaborating with KSLSA underscored the significance of partnership between government bodies and Civil Society Organizations. Working with KSLSA was an enriching and rewarding experience. The Member Secretary and other advocates were committed to ensuring justice for the petitioners. Their perspective on the nature of Bangalore’s development was tainted with concern - about the rapid expansion of infrastructure and lack of implementation of regulations.

  • Crowdsourcing data proved to be an effective, efficient, and inclusive approach, empowering citizens and enhancing awareness. The utilisation of crowdsourced data facilitated comprehensive coverage and expedited information collection.

While the project witnessed significant progress, challenges persisted, necessitating sustained efforts and community engagement. The case has now shifted to a secondary court and the next hearing will take place sometime in March, signifying an ongoing commitment to effect positive change.

This success story in Bangalore serves as a beacon of hope, showcasing the transformative power of collaborative action in revitalising urban spaces.

For me, as a student of a course on Urban Sustainability in college, working on this has motivated me to work on other civic and sustainability issues in Bangalore, collaborating with government bodies and Civil Society Organizations to address the most pertinent issues out there.