Can Pissed-Off Neighbors Save the World?

This story is about a Kolkata developer who was approved to build an 8-story mall, and who decided to up and build a 13-story mall instead. Awesome.  Two things about this caught my eye. First, the claim by the quoted pissed-off neighbor (PON) that the mall had no parking. Given the recent refusal of Bangalore to take strong steps on addressing the impending parking apocalypse, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this were the case. According to the developer’s specs, however, there are two levels of parking, which admittedly seems mighty slim for 13 floors. Not awesome, but probably not apocalypse-worthy. (The link features a seizure-worthy animated image of the mall, which I both can’t and won’t reproduce here. You’re welcome.)

Okay, so on to thing #2: the PON, who along with his neighbors finally forced the state to step in and the city to deny an occupancy permit, at least until the smoke clears. As anyone who has spent 5 minutes in municipal decision making knows, PONs are the foot-soldiers of accountability, the Irked who battle the Irksome on the rocky terrain of noise, height, parking, staff responsiveness, and so on. Their data-driven battles, where winners are declared on compliance minutiae, keep staff aware (and how) that they are being watched. No matter how deeply ensconced in the entrails of your department you may be, you never know when one of the files on your desk is the one that someone will raise a stink over.

Indian cities are badly in need of accountability. . . can the PONs help?  In Mumbai, for example, the juicy battles between right-wing goons (aka, the police) and miniskirt-clad partygoers got even more interesting when PONs started filing information requests on nearby bars, seeking to shutter those that lacked proper licenses. (India passed an extensive Right to Information law in 2005.) Hindu housewives on holy high horses?  Hardly. These are swanky cosmopolitans with the usual complaints about property values and quality of life, or more specifically the lack thereof when one lives next door to a lot of other people having a very good time.  Here, by the way, is apparently how one has a good time on New Year’s Eve in Mumbai:

Granted, the typical PON concern about noise and parking is almost  laughable given the scale of deprivation in India. On the other hand, the use of RTIs holds potential to spur an increased culture of accountability. Any step in that direction is a welcome one.

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