Grandma\’s Tales

March 29, 2007

The Elliot’s beach saga – 12 What now? 4

Filed under: Consumer caution,Games People Play,Government,Society — Rajesh @ 10:20 pm

I am impressed. It is amazing and at some level humbling what Internet platforms can do for civic action. So far I had only read reports of them. This is the first time that I have actually seen how online communities come together for a common concern and translate it into action with little waste of time. Note the sequence of the beach saga.
Mr. S attends a meeting of the local council where he is left staring at a monstrous plan to “beautify” the beach. Mr. S smells a rat. He knows the plan will be executed in double quick time before people can say “What!” He decides to do something about it.
He writes to the local officials and then the Commissioner why the plan is totally unacceptable. An Exnora friend mails copies of those letters to all her friends. That’s it. The information spreads like a slum fire. People start writing to friends, I put it on my blog for a whole lot of people to see. When Mr. S organises a meeting, residents of Besant Nagar, the group that will be most affected by all that civic work on the beach (imagine a meeting/concert in the amphitheatre), join him. Experts write letters on environmental and legal aspects of this proposal.
Mr. S gets the local officials to meet the residents and others. Adyar Times is now an interested, concerned party. So are the turtle group and the Tree Vigil group. Those at the meeting take a look at the colourfully made album of photographs of the structures to come. One beach Exnora guy quickly clicks away with his mobile camera and Mr. S mails the shots to the group.
Those who receive them are appalled. Members of the Chennai metroblog, who first said they would reserve judgement till they saw the plan see them in my post and are shocked into silence.
After this, the matter gets into the bullet train. The Commissioner is informed of the opposition. He appears at two meetings organised by the two groups involved. The opposition to the beautification attempt is now a combined force, manned by a younger set, which has now avataared as Civil Society Group. This is when the technology explodes.
CSG quickly organises a survey. E-mails rush back and forth in the Group site, the questionnaire is prepared, copies are made and volunteers span out to get them answered on that Saturday evening. The Commissioner begs off, but the survey is done. So is the “revised” plan that cleverly spreads out the structures to near the road to beat the CZR.  The plan is put up on the gym wall to meet the need to “consult” citizens before a large plan expenditure.
When the  Commissioner visits the beach on Sunday evening, a CSG volunteer takes him around, showing him the various sore spots on the beach. He is shown the fate of the structures constructed over a period of time. He is told why any “beautification” must start with cleaning up. Mr. Muthiah’s Madras Musings has picked up the story and his words are quoted to the Commissioner. He is asked if there is government pressure to complete the project in a hurry. He cannot but notice the displeasure of the assembled groups.
As I write this, the survey has been collated, prepared in a “results at a glance” PPT format, the meeting has been arranged for Sunday morning, the press is informed, the agenda prepared, the number of people decided, logos and captions written, the necessity for a projector discussed. All  in front of my eyes, through the site! I guess the members just check their mail, swing into action on the same computer, send out replies with suggestions, and voila! all is ready for the meeting! Astounding!
Here is a strong, tech savvy online community created by an on-shore move by the city corporation.
A personal bit of happiness is when the editor of Apollo Times called this morning to take permission to use my blog material for his story on the beach. Viva la blog!

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