This is a six-part novella about the struggles of young people to save their endangered housing complex, symbolic of the much bigger efforts needed to protect the badly endangered life nurturing conditions of our planet. Here fact and fantasy are combined  to create interesting situations which are  symbolic of the  wider critical issues of our times.

 1

The Inspector from the Urban Development Authority Mr. Deendayal could not have come at a less opportune time.

The residents of Shining Green Apartments had a big celebration the previous night at which all the office-bearers of the Managing Committee had stayed till late at night. Nekram, the President of the committee, had too many whiskies and just couldn’t pull himself out of his bed this morning. Sadachari, the Vice-President had been trying his best to woo Babli, the reigning beauty queen of Shining Green, and had succeeded only very late in the night.

Both these busybodies were thus in no position to meet the Inspector when he suddenly called early in the morning. But the situation was saved, as often before, by the Secretory Upkari Shroff.

It is not that Upkari did not like his whisky. In fact he too had his share of drinks and had hovered around Babli and her friends. But Upkari knew when and where to stop. For he realised that this was a crucial year to make his fortune of a lifetime, or perhaps several lifetimes. There would be enough time later for all pleasures of life. This was the time, he kept telling himself, to concentrate on making as much money as possible and he knew more than anyone else that there were enough opportunities for this in Shining Green.

These thoughts were foremost in Upkari’s mind as he rushed to meet Deendayal at the Management Committee office.

It is good, he told himself, that both Nekram and Sadachari were out of action today. Both of them were his close confidantes of course, but for once he felt the need to hold a one-to-one meeting with Deendayal.

“Welcome, Inspector Sahib”, he said cheerfully as he entered the office room and quickly walked towards the waiting official to shake his hands perhaps a bit too heavily.

“Hello Mr. Shroff, ” the Inspector responded, cordially yet trying to keep a distance, extricating himself with some difficulty from the strong grip of Shroff’s hands.

“You are always welcome here, Deendayal Ji, but I must say I am a little surprised to see you so early in the day.”, Shroff said with questioning eyes.

“Well, yes, the matter is so important that I thought I should call on you personally. You see the report of the Inquiry Committee has been finalised.”

Upkari had been anticipating this, yet was not quite prepared for this news this morning. His questioning eyes widened further.

“It is a damning report”, the Inspector continued somewhat sternly, “I don’t have all the details yet but basically what the report says in its conclusion is that almost the entire Shining Green complex faces the threat of collapsing.”

“Well not the entire complex, Deendayal ji, never the entire complex. I can guarantee again that at least the new complex of 50 flats is 100 percent safe, and will remain so. I’ve absolutely fool-proof evidence of this. This means, that your flat is safe, and so is that of Babli.”

Upkari winked as he uttered the last words, and Deendayal evidently got the message, for he relaxed at once and said in a voice of friendly complaint, “But you arranged only one meeting with her, although you promised that there’ll be more.”

“There’ll certainly be more meetings for you, Deendayal Sahib, and you can also assure your boss and politician friends that their flats are guaranteed to be safe.”

“Actually even the inquiry report agrees that the new complex is safe, but it says that only 1 percent of the total population of Shining Green lives there. All the other parts face threats, and for the poorest part there is highest threat of collapse.” Deendayal informed in a businesslike tone.”

“But if the affected people can live with the threat, so can the government. After all, it is to ensure this that we had given thirty million rupees earlier, and an equal amount will be given when the new complex gets the final OK.”

“All this I know and understand Mr. Shroff, but look at my compulsions. The inquiry report also says that the trees that you are felling for the new flats and extra water you’ll extract for the additional flats and the swimming pools will accentuate the already serious threat for most people of Shining Green. So you can imagine how difficult it is now for me to get you the official approval”, Deendayal pleaded.

Upkari now fixed his eyes firmly upon those of Deendayal, “These government reports come and go, Inspector, but we need to understand each other. For both of us this is the chance of our lifetime, and we should both stick strongly to our sides of the bargain.”

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At around the same time that Upkari met Deendayal, a very different meeting was taking place in another part of Shining Green. Here 22-year old Preeti waited eagerly for her friends to assemble. Generally known for spreading cheerfulness, Preeti looked uncharacteristically worried today with flashes of anger and tension on her pretty face. But she relaxed and smiled when Jatin come in.

Jatin was only a little elder to her in age, but looked – and actually was – much more experienced. At a young age he had been involved in several social movements and struggles. With Jatin by her side, Preeti felt her burden was reduced and shared, and so perhaps for the first time this morning she felt relaxed.

After changing greetings, which amounted to only a half-smile on Jatin’s part, they found a corner for a quick exchange of words between them.

Jatin had brought good news, “Imitiaz Uncle said he’ll try his best to come”, he told Preeti.

“But don’t tell others yet, for if he cannot come then they’ll be needlessly disappointed,” Jatin added, when he saw her rushing towards her friends.

Preeti stopped in her tracks, but nevertheless she felt reassured and confident. Even if Imitiaz Uncle cannot actually come today, she told herself, the fact that he agreed to come for this meeting means that he will be with us in this struggle.

Imitiaz had retired from a school as head master several years back, but people still remembered him for his integrity and dedication to education. His former pupils doted on him. For the few Muslim families who lived in Shining Green he was a natural leader, but his reputation extended much beyond his own community.

“What about David uncle?” Preeti asked.

“He has to first finish some urgent writing which he cannot postpone. If he can finish this work in time, he’ll come but at best you can expect him only towards the end of the meeting, “Jatin replied.

This too was comforting for Preeti. David was a kind elder whose writings appeared in some newspapers. Like Imitiaz, he was a dear ‘Uncle’ for those youths like Preeti and Jatin who took the lead in challenging irregularities and injustice in Shining Green. With Imitiaz uncle and David uncle on our side, Preeti thought, we’ll make a fight of it.

She now felt much more confident and relaxed as she initiated the meeting of the core group of ‘Youth for Justice’, an organisation formed by her and Jatin two years ago to mobilise local youth to resist increasing irregularities and corruption in and around Shining Green.

“Friends, thanks for coming at this early hour and that too at such a short notice. We bothered you only because of the urgency of the issue. This is an emergency meeting.”

Preeti paused to see the impact of her words. There were eager, inquisitive eyes all around her.

“I now request Jatin Bannerji to give the latest information on Shining Green developments to our core group.”

Jatin came forward near Preeti’s chair to speak to the core group. He began on a formal note, “I would like to thank Preeti Sharma for calling this meeting at her home as we could not make any other arrangement in such a short time. Only yesterday morning we learnt that the inquiry committee has just finalised its report on Shining Green, and this report has confirmed our worst fears.

These words had a stunning impact on the young audience. The overwhelming feeling was one of deep worry. If, as Jatin said, the worst fears had been confirmed, then most people living in Shining Green were in deep trouble. But side by side with this feeling of deep concern there was also a sense of triumph. After all, it is these young people more than anyone else who had worked day and night to draw attention to the impending crisis, to the dangers which had been building up over the years and now threatened their future as well as that of others. They had continued to raise these issues despite the utter neglect, contempt  and in the later days even open hostility of those who were in-charge of the affairs of Shining Green. At first they had been ignored, then even threatened. And now, as Jatin said, what these youths had said had been stamped with the approval of the government’s own experts and senior officials.

This meant that the possibility of the collapse of a major part of the buildings raised by them was real. This was deeply worrying. But along with this worry was a sense of achievement that what we struggled so much to prove now has official confirmation.

The sense of achievement was not narrow or personal. These youths had been involved enough in public affairs to realise that their first step for any protective action on the part of the authorities was to obtain official confirmation of the problem. Now they can even go to a court with this inquiry committee report as their main weapon.

All these thoughts quickly rushed through the hyper-active minds of the eager youths as they waited impatiently to hear more from Jatin who, with all his other qualities, had this irritating habit of speaking very slowly and quietly with many pauses.

“We haven’t been able to get the full copy of the report yet and I have heard that the authorities are being very secretive about it. But our sources in the Urban Development Authority have confirmed this much that possibilities of collapse of many buildings raised by us have been confirmed in this report. What is more, the committee has stated that if the present trends of over-building and over-extraction of water and stones continues, then this threat will escalate further.”

Jatin allowed himself another long pause, giving his audience time to digest what he had already said before delivering what he believed could be the punch-line. However, he could not stop for too long as the penetrating, inquiring eyes of his young friends forced him to speak sooner than he originally intended.

“A very important point the inquiry report emphasises is that the new complex of 50 luxury flats will aggravate the problems for existing houses. Also, that serious irregularities are involved in this new and latest development of Shining Green.”

The young activists found their sense of triumph growing stronger. This is precisely the one point on which they had fought the strongest. “The new luxury flat complex can prove to be the last nail on the coffin of this residential complex created with such high hopes and expectations”, these are the strong words they had used in their representation to the authorities.

And now this had been officially confirmed. The stamp of the government’s approval had been placed on the warning that had emerged from their careful study and research. Wasn’t this a great achievement by itself?

Jatin seemed to sense their thoughts accumulating – after all he was one among them who had spent many sleepless nights toiling for hours to confirm a single fact or figure.

“On the one hand this is a big victory and a huge affirmation of our efforts so far to save our housing society and its neighborhood. On the other hand it is clear that a far bigger challenge is still ahead of us. Proving that a very serious problem exists was only the first step of our larger task. The next, bigger task that awaits us is to stop this extremely serious problem, this serious drift towards ruin, before it is too late. It is to discuss our future strategy that we’ve called this emergency meeting.”

Jatin had spoken without a pause more than he normally did, and he now returned quietly to take his seat.

Preeti looked at Jatin with affection and pride as he walked away, and then rose to her feet, “Well friends, now you all know how urgent the issue is. How do we move forward? All suggestions are welcome.”

Venkat Raghavan spoke first, “We should file an application under right to information and obtain a copy of the complete inquiry report. This will help us to decide our strategy and will be invaluable in any legal action that we initiate.”

Mohini Rao raised her hand, “Whether or not we get this report we should form a delegation to meet senior officials in the Urban Development Authority regarding this.”

Shivram said, “In this small meeting I alone represent the poorest sections of Shining Green. We are the worst affected. In our colony the threat of collapse is the highest. Also our people are least capable of facing this threat. So while I’ll fully cooperate with whatever agenda we all jointly prepare, I appeal to all of you to keep in mind the special needs of the most vulnerable people.”

Pritam Kaur said, “First more people should know the truth. We should call a press conference so that this news appears prominently in the media.”

“But we can do this effectively only when we have a copy of the report, “Venkat interrupted her.

Ranvinder Singh did not have much faith in all these steps which he considered slow and dull. “The most effective step will be directly occupy the construction site and stop the construction of new luxury flats.”

“Please remember that the other side is very powerful, and any use of force by us will only result in much greater use of force by them,” Jatin warned.

The debate was getting fierce but just then the door bell rang. When Preeti opened the door she found David and Imitiaz standing side by side, smiling.

Her face lit up with delight and she shouted, “Here come our uncles to help us find our way in this crisis.”

All the youths stood up in respect to the two elders, even through they gestured to them to keep sitting. Preeti’s mother Savitri also suddenly appeared to greet the two elderly guests.

Jatin started all over again explaining the contents of the report to the newcomers, while Preeti went to the kitchen to help her mother in serving tea and snacks. Towards the end, everyone agreed that the matter was so serious that a bigger meeting should be called as early as possible.

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In the evening of the same day yet another meeting took place in Shining Green, but this was a very different gathering. In this meeting most of the birds of Shining Green were present. These included crows, parrots, pigeons, mynahs, sparrows, eagles and owls, but also a bunch of mammals, reptiles and even insects – some dogs and cats of course but also monkeys and donkeys, squirrels and rabbits but also butterflies, bees and even earthworms.

This meeting could only be held in the late evening when most birds returned from their wanderings. There was, however, a danger of several birds falling asleep too soon, and so the organisers, led by a few parrots and monkeys, were anxious to start the meeting as early as possible. But the birds had much to tell each other about the day’s happenings and could not be prevailed upon to remain quiet and listen  to various speakers. Finally, when some semblance of order could be established the proceedings could start.

The meeting was proesided over by Nightouter, a middle-aged owl who could be relied upon not to fall asleep even if the meeting continued till later hours. The main speakers were Senator, an elderly parrot and Leader, an elderly monkey of Shining Green.

Senator had been a pet at a politician’s family for long, and could shrewdly find his way to freedom from the cage only after a long time. Leader had performed various antics with a circus for several years, before he too could make good his escape. The forest of Shining Green had provided them both a convenient shelter right within the city after this escape, and they loved their home where many species of birds and animals had lived in green surroundings in comfort and harmony for several decades – till the new threats appeared a few years ago.

Due to their special backgrounds both Senator and Leader had developed widely appreciated skills in understanding the species of human beings and providing advance warning whenever new activities of human beings posed any threat to other forms of life in Shining Green.

Lately both of them had been sensing trouble ahead for birds and animals, and it was to share their feelings that this special meeting had been called.

Nightouter had presided over several such meetings, and he knew by experience that while  Senator was the wisest among all birds and animals Leader was the one who could best present an action plan to cope with any crisis. Still protocol demanded that the wisest elder should be the first to speak, and so he summoned Senator to start the proceedings.

Senator spoke serenely as behoved the senior most bird, “Friends and children, I’ve seen human beings from very close quarters and I can say with confidence that while there are both good and bad among them, taken together as a species they are of the lowest kind. They’ve oppressed us since thousands of years. On top of it they have the cheek to use our names as abusive words, even though our behaviour is far nobler than theirs.

“Look at the donkeys resting there. They served their master most faithfully for many years, but he kicked them out when they grew old. Look at their hard work, their dignity, their contentment with a life of few needs. Yet when human beings find anyone doing something stupid they call him a donkey. Similarly they degrade dogs, pigs, crows and others.

“Human beings are supposed to be the wisest creations but I find them to be the most stupid and destructive. This our area of Shining Green used to be such a fine place in the beginning, but they have destroyed it to such an extent in a few years that most houses here can collapse anytime.

“At the same time they have also ruined our habitat. They’ve been cutting trees year after year but earlier it was not to such an extent. Now to make more new illegal luxury flats, they are going to cut most of the trees destroying for all time to come the habitat of all of us. Where else will we go in this polluted city of busy roads and little greenery. They are destroying themselves and destroying us along with them. Why did God give so much power to such a reckless, thoughtless species?”

Senator’s voice chocked with emotion and anger. Nightouter asked for a beakful of water which two parrots supplied promptly. They politely helped Senator  to a branch where he could rest.

Now it was the turn of Leader. He was more practical, and came to the action agenda immediately, “Senator has already informed about the problems ahead. I fully endorse his opinion that large-scale tree felling is being planned. The question is what can we do about it? I suggest a two-point plan of action. Firstly, when someone comes to fell trees, we’ll bite and scratch and resist them till they leave. This may not be enough because they can return with guns. We’ll hide and then if some human beings also come out to protest, then we’ll fight on their side.”

This highly practical plan of action was understood more easily by most of the birds and animals. Bees and wasps said they’ll sting the tree-fellers till they flee, and crows were no less keen to use their beaks against the offenders. Nightouter formed a committee of owls and bats to quickly collect suggestions before the birds fall asleep, and on this point the meeting ended.

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 2

The Shining Green Housing Society turned out to be a shining example of good ideas which take the opposite shape.

In fact even the original name was different – it was simply the Green Housing Society. But when commercial interests took over and wanted to add glitter and glamour to the original concept of a simple housing project set in green surroundings, they also found it profitable to adverse it as the ‘Shining Green Housing Society’. In fact, if legal matters were not involved, they may have preferred to remove the word ‘Green’ altogether.

In any case they had been reducing the green cover gradually, and now there were plans for tree felling on a much larger scale so that in deed if not in name, the ‘Green’ part would go.

But to go back to the early days, the idea of the ‘The Green Housing Society’ was conceived in the middle of two growing public concerns. First, there was growing realisation that the big city was first losing its ‘lungs’ or its few remaining places of tree cover. Secondly, there was increasing criticism of the decay, congestions and filth in slums.

In the middle of these growing concerns, an idea came up that about a hundred migrant workers from villages now living in city slums will be involved in a project for regeneration of degraded city forests. Free small houses will be provided for all these families and they will get a modest payment, per month, and in return they’ll assume the responsibility for protection and regeneration of urban forests in a wide area.

This was an area of crucial ecological importance with gently sloping hills on one side. The protection of tree cover on hills helped to slow down and conserve the torrential rain waters. As the green cover on hills increased, so did the water in the lake and tanks below, contributing much to the availability as well as conservation of water in surrounding city areas suffering frequently from water scarcity.

During the first decade of its inception, the Green Housing Project was hailed widely as a pioneering intervention to protect urban ecology as well as help the urban poor.

However its very success drew the attention of commercial interests to it – men like Upkari and Sadachari who had completely different ideas for this project.

As the big city expanded on all sides, land prices rose sharply even in its outer areas. This price escalation was particularly acute in the area around the Green Housing Project, as the forests on hills and filled up lakes added greatly to the beauty and serenity of the area. Acquiring a house in this area become the new status symbol in the city, and the richest people were willing to pay a fortune for it.

At this stage Upkari, with the help of Sadachari and Nekram roped in a few politicians to change the bye-laws of the Green Housing Society. Apart from pre-fixing ‘shining’ to its original name, the changes provide for clearing more land for sale to ‘deserving’ persons who have ‘contributed to the richness of city life’. This provided enough room for manipulation by Upkari and his men who made tens of millions of Rs. in illegal money in the course of land allotments. Another change of rules led to the development of shopping arcades and allocation of commercial plots in Shining Green which brought in even more money to Upkari. A hefty slice of this went to politicians and bureaucrats who hailed the ‘progress’ made under the leadership of Upkari and how it yielded more revenue to the government and more housing opportunities to people.

Within the next decade, residential and commercial activity spread to 30 hectares instead of the original allocation of only 3 hectares for residential purposes. On the other hand, while earlier 47 hectares out of 50 were designated as green areas, now only 20 hectares were left for this purpose.

The second decade of this project witnessed a huge increase in construction activity, as many new flat complexes were built. The flat-owners were slyly encouraged to over-build much beyond the stipulated limits, but of course only if they paid bribes. Thus Upkari and his fellow-crooks had illegal money flowing in all the time, which they shared with councillors, inspectors, the police and even the media. When various activities which flouted original objectives and rules of the Green Housing Project took place, all the time these were praised and hailed as big development achievements. Senior politicians and bureaucrats were called in to inaugurate the various new apartments and markets, and almost every month there was some big celebration or the other.

Shining Green became a big attraction for real estate agents and property dealers. They noticed that 20 hectares of green area was still available here, and they eyed it greedily.

In the middle of all this merriment and money-making, however, a few voices of dissent had begin to emerge. Perhaps the most effective opposition was voiced by members of the group which had been in the forefront of thinking up and spreading the original idea of the Green Housing Project. David and Imitiaz were also members of this group.

This group drew repeated attention to the rapidly escalating ecological problems and safety concerns of this project. This land at the lower end of foothills was not really meant for such for such large-scale construction activity and should have kept to the original objective of increasing green cover. A lot of construction activity which involved creating barriers and changing slopes impeded the free flow of rainwater flowing down the hills. New constructions and the related barriers diverted the flowing rainwater towards the settlements created for the original poor allottees of the Green Housing Project. There were devastated repeatedly by floods during the second decade, although during the first decade they did not experience a single flood as then rain water flowed along its natural channels.

As more and more trees were felled, much lesser water was conserved in the groundwater aquifers. Also, indiscriminate construction activity which extended even to catchment areas prevented rain water from reaching the lakes and tanks in lower parts of the hills. While water conservation went down rapidly, its extraction by tubewells was increased many times over to meet the very high demands of relentless construction activity. To attract high paying buyers, the management committee offered 24-hour, endless water supply which also escalated the rapid withdrawal of water. Within a decade the water table went down drastically.

Deforestation, overbuilding, floods and prolonged water-logging as well as sinking of land in some areas caused by rapid decline of water table in fragile geological conditions led to alarming increase in instability and safety concerns. Cracks had appeared in some houses, particularly those belonging to the original inhabitants. One under-construction house had collapsed like a pack of cards, although fortunately no one was injured. The management rushed to underplay such incidents or even deny them altogether, but local people who knew the reality worried increasingly about the safety of their houses.

These safety concerns reached a flash point when the management of Shining Green announced their latest and most ambitious project called Glittering Green. This was planned as the most glamourous and expensive part of Shining Green, virtually a new town within the existing housing project. Out of the remaining 20 hectares of the remaining green belt of Shining Green, as much as 17 hectares of land was planned to be cleared of trees and shrubs to make room for 50 luxury flats, private lawns, swimming pools and a golf course. A spanking new shopping mall was also included and would become the most imposing and defining structure of the entire Shining Green Project.

As this was certain to escalate all the existing safety and environmental problems faced by the inhabitants of Shining Green, there was a great deal of resentment among them. Understandably these feelings were strongest in the areas where there were already signs of land-recession. It was felt that the heavy withdrawal of water for the new luxury project is likely to rapidly lower the water table further and accelerate land sinking. This would be aggravated further by more quarrying for stone in the nearby hills. Several residents feared that their houses will collapse, while others less threatened by land sinking were also concerned about the increasing water scarcity. The management tried to temporarily assauge feelings by installing new, deeper borewells, but people understood that this was just a temporary palliative, and will actually aggravate the decline of water-table. The hollowed up land will further have to bear the much heavier impact of the shopping mall.

While most people worried about the safety aspects a handful of corrupt persons led by Upkari and Shroff saw this as their biggest ever opportunity to make a quick fortune. The commissions they hoped to earn from this phase of Shining Green’s’ development’ were much bigger than anything they had earned earlier. They were determined to push through this deal, come what way.

It was in this situation that some young people of Shining Green led by Jatin Bannerjee and Preeti Sharma formed a group ‘Youths for Justice’ to oppose this project. They dug up all available information on the project, and obtained the opinion of eminent geologists, ecologists, town-planners, architects and other experts on this. Their research revealed alarming information which further strengthened their resolve to fight the ‘Glittering Green’ Project. They were helped, guided and encouraged by some elderly members of the group who had promoted the original Green Housing Project.

Jatin and Preeti had taken some of their preliminary findings to senior officials in the Union Government and this led to the appointment of an Experts Panel to inquire into the affairs of the Shining Green Housing Project. It was the news about the finalisation of this inquiry report that had escalated the feelings on both sides of the fight in Shinning Green.

Both sides know that while the Glittering Green Project had already started, some land had been cleared, but it was still at a very initial stage and could still be stopped by strong and sustained resistance supported by facts and figures.

Jatin had not been able to get the entire report, but an extract which he could get from his contacts had given him a lot of hope. These two paras in the concluding chapter of the Inquiry Report said, “This experts’ panel after careful investigation and eliciting the opinion of several eminent persons found enough evidence to indicate that the very survival of several flats, houses and other buildings is now threatened. Already there is a real danger that several houses are on the verge of collapse.

“This risk will escalate greatly and spread further to many more houses if the new development phase called Glittering Green is allowed to go ahead. In addition to the inhabitants whose very survival is threatened by house collapse, many more will find their difficulties increasing greatly due to water shortage and other problems. The experts’ panel therefore strongly recommends that the Glittering project is stopped with immediate effect and efforts should instead by diverted to improving the safety and survival conditions of all parts of Shining Green.

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3

   It was a pleasant Sunday morning when over 100 residents of Shining Green Apartments, mostly youths, gathered at the Block C Community Centre. A holiday was best suited for calling a meeting of ‘Youth for Justice’, but no one seemed to be in a ‘holiday’ mood. Tension had been building up since the last week, and small groups of more active members huddled together for last minute consultations before the formal meeting started.

Finally Preeti went up to the podium, “On behalf of Youth for Justice I welcome you all to this extremely important meeting of our organisation. My special thanks also to our those senior residents of Shining Green who have guided and helped us time and again.

“By now you are well aware if the extremely critical issues at stake. The information available to us so far has already been circulated to all of you. It is clear even from this less than complete information that the very survival of large parts of Shining Green Apartments is threatened today.

“Youths for Justice’ can take legitimate pride in being among the first to draw attention to the fast escalating crisis situation. Of course only because of the valuable help we received from senior advisors like Imtiaz Ali and David Paul, we were able to raise the issue effectively time and again apart from collecting the essential facts and data. Now that the worst of our fears have been confirmed by an official committee, we’ve to urgently decide what should be our future plan of action. We cannot just rest on our laurels. All our tireless efforts so far will be rewarded only if we take effective action now.

“What exactly is this effective action? It is to plan our next steps carefully that we’ve called this meeting. Before I call our President Jatin Bannerjee to present a summary of some suggested action, I first request our senior advisers and mentors Imtiaz Ali and David Paul to say a few words of advice as their guidance has proved invaluable for us time and again.”

Imitiaz, a man of medium height and somewhat heavier built, rose from his seat and walked slowly towards the podium. As he faced the audience he rearranged his spectacles and bowed low before the audience. As he smiled, his kind features become more visible behind his thick beard. He spoke slowly, his deep measured voice reflecting the maturity of his thoughts.

“Friends”, he started, “Let me first of all express the deep gratitude of all residents of Shining Green to Youths for Justice for it is the young persons of this ogranisation who have taken up, in the middle of great difficulties and uncertainties, the most urgent task of fighting for the very survival of this housing society.

“There are many issues and tasks which confront us, my friends, but there cannot be any task of greater importance than that of ensuring survival. I am called to several meeting in this housing society, sometimes it is do discuss beautification, sometimes to create more sports facilities and a gymnasium, sometimes to open  a new bank and ATM. All this may have their own importance and relevance, I keep telling others, but clearly survival issues are much more urgent. What is the use of discussing beautification of a block of flats when the very safety of these flats is threatened. The other day I was at a meeting of B block where there was a big discussion whether to use pink paint or green paint for the main outer wall and gates. This block of flats has been singled out in the inquiry report for its safety risks. Imagine people discussing endlessly the colour of the paint when the house itself can collapse at any moment. This is the absurdity to which our society has been pushed. This is partly because the real disturbing facts do not reach all people. But it is also partly because people have got so engrossed in their daily routine, including a lot of trivial matters, that they do not have the time and the inclination to look at the big issues.

“It is therefore heartening to see that some youths have the wisdom as well as the courage to take up the real big issues of Shining Green Apartments. If it was not for the initiatives take up by ‘Youths for Justice’, the very real and serious problems would have remained hidden before it is too late. In fact there are very powerful people who want these big problems to remain hidden, and they also tried their best to ensure this. But ‘Youths for Change’ was even more persistent in its efforts and the result as you know today is that now there is official confirmation of the warnings given by ‘Youths for Change’ regarding the very real and frightening dangers to the safety of most buildings in the Shining Green. Of course the threat is more at some places and relatively less at some places, and no one can predict exactly where some big disaster can happen, but what is beyond any doubt is that serious risks to the survival of the greater part of Shining Green have already emerged due to the reckless actions of those who control the affairs of this big housing society.”

There was pin-drop silence in the small hall and everyone listened with rapt attention to what Imitiaz Ali had to say. This was not just because Imitiaz’s opinion was highly regarded by members of ‘Youths for Justice’. This was also because these youths knew their own capacity to mobilize people for a wider social movement were limited. If they wanted more people to come with them for opposing powerful interests, these youths relied more heavily on Imitiaz Ali than on anyone else.

“When I first came to this housing society,” Imitiaz was saying, “I felt very happy that I’ve found a shelter for my family in green surroundings. I worked hard to ensure that my children also could live here when they grow up, and I succeeded or almost so. After all hard work and toil to find the money to buy two more flats our family now finds that there can no longer be considered safe residential places. Our entire life’s savings and hard work are being snatched away by the reckless pursuits of a few persons who have embarked as indiscriminate destruction of greenery, reckless quarrying, large-scale blasting for this work, building spree and water extraction far beyond the capacity of this place.

“I was involved with the original planning for this housing society and very well remember the care we had taken not to disturb the fragile ecology of these foothills and adjoining plains. In the initial years we were very careful not to allow any quarrying and felling of trees on the hill slopes. But after some time all caution were simply thrown aside to speed up building activity and related quarrying and mining for building material in violation of all safety norms. It was even forgotten that the landslides and flash floods unleashed later by quarrying and blasting work can bury the some houses for which stones and gravel were being taken away from hills. The mining of sand with huge machines from the belly of the river led to the drying up of the river and denial of water to some housing colonies to build which sand was taken from these rivers.

“Within a few years the situation has aggravated to such an extent that the safety of the houses of most of us living here is threatened. I’ve come here to reaffirm that in the efforts to save and reclaim this fast deteriorating situation, my support and help will always be extended wholeheartedly to Youths for Justice.”

Imitiaz’s last words got a huge applause from the audience. The confidence of the youths assembled here increased as they now felt reassured of his continuing support. What he said about the new generation of most families feeling very insecure due to the endangered safety of their houses had touched responsive chords among most of the audience.

David Paul was the next speaker. When Preeti called his name, the tall, thin, balding man walked briskly to the podium. He carried with him a paper on which he had jotted a few points.

Unlike Imitiaz, David did not have any strong following of people behind him. He was essentially a writer, but not a particularly famous one. He managed to get published in only some of the smaller newspapers and magazines, and that too not very regularly. Nevertheless he had been able to make an important contribution to several social movements and community initiatives. He knew his limitations and worked hard to make the best contribution within these limits. He was known above all for his honesty, integrity and deep commitment to the causes for which he worked. He was able to draw on him rich experiences as a writer, researcher and part-time activist for nearly four decades. Due to his knowledge, sincerity and accessibility, ‘Youths for Justice’ had found him a most valuable ally from the very beginning of its work. The youths here had respect for what David would say and in addition they were eager to hear what suggestions he had to make at this critical juncture.

True to his character, David quickly come to the basic issues without indulging in any rhetoric, “I fully endorse what Imitiaz Bhai has just said, and I now come to the task at hand or the immediate challenge we face now.

“First and foremost is the challenge of stopping new Glittering Luxury Apartment Complex. This just now is the most important task as this will add greatly to all those factors which are threatening the safety of Shining Green. Fortunately, we now have damaging indictments of this extensive project right within the official inquiry report which gives us an important support base for opposing this project. But let’s also not forget that very important people are involved in this project and so it’ll not be an easy task to stop it. It is extremely unfortunate that even when the very survival of a big housing complex is threatened, powerful forces are supporting those extensions which will further greatly accentuate the survival crisis instead of taking urgent steps to reducing the survival threats.

“Secondly, we need to work in an integrated way to reduce and where possible remove all the various threats that have emerged for the safety of Shining Green Apartments. For example, taking up water harvesting projects at all suitable places including all roofs will be very much needed if we want to check the fast depletion of ground-water and the hollowing-up of earth created by it. Stopping all further quarrying and mining will also be helpful in this, This has already done enough damage and should be banned with immediate effect so that hollowed-up and badly scarred areas can be taken up for suitable treatment and greenery. There should be a ban on felling of trees on the slopes in and above Shining Green and more particularly in the catchment area of our river. Sand mining in the riverbed also has to be checked.

“We’ve to prepare much better to face disaster situations such as earthquakes, landslides and floods. As a result of recent changes, we’ve become susceptible to heavy damage even from relatively smaller earthquakes. You’ve already seen and many of you’ve experienced the much higher threat from landslides and floods. The normal flood paths were obstructed thoughtlessly by new constructions at wrong places. The on-going efforts to provide protection by embankments may actually lead to even more destructive floods, as the ruin in catchment areas of the river due to large-scale felling of trees and quarrying are likely to unleash much heavier floods which the embankments will not be able to withstand. Floods caused by breaches of embankments will be much more destructive compared to normal floods.

“Beside the special threat at the time of disasters, even in normal times the safety of most buildings has been badly compromised. We’ve to call in experts and they in consultation with committees of residents have to prepare remedial safety action. This should have started long ago but those who control the affairs of our society have always avoided such essential work, while continuing to make more and more money by increasing building activity and allowing people to add more structures in the already over-constructed flats regardless of safety risks.

“People also tend to fall for this trap thinking in a very narrow way that will enhance the value of their property,  forgetting that continuation or accentuation of serious safety risks can one day lead to the collapse of this property making them homeless.

“This message has to be taken to more and more people so that they can come out of the narrow concerns of only increasing the short-term value of property. It is only when a much greater number of people recognise the importance of safety and survival issues and act accordingly that we can effectively meet the big challenge before us.”

The mostly young audience had listened very carefully to what David said; some of them also took notes. They knew that whatever David spoke was based on careful observation and research. As David went back to his seat, he received a big round of applause. Many in the audience looked approvingly towards each other while they applauded.

Ranvinder Singh was known to be a man of action, not of words. The audience didn’t expect him to speak much, but it was important to hear him as everyone appreciated his big role in mobilising people. Ranvinder Singh was widely respected for his courage and commitment. Once this young man was determined to take up a task, he would simply take it on, regardless of the adversities and possible consequences. The word ‘Impossible’, his admirers said, was just not present in Ranvinder’s dictionary!

Ranvinder was one speaker who didn’t really need a microphone. He spoke loud and clear. “Uncle David has told us so clearly how huge are the challenges before us. I only wish to add that to face any great challenge we have to initiate such actions which can motivate and mobilise people, which can capture the imagination of people in such a way that they come out in large numbers to face the challenges. Merely good words are not enough, we need strong action’.

After this Ranvinder stopped abruptly and quickly walked back to his seat, leaving the audience to wonder about the real meaning of what he had said, or whether there was some deeper message in the few simple words that Ranvinder uttered.

Preeti came to the podium and announced, more happily and cheerfully than on earlier occasions, “I now request Jatin Bannerjee, President of Youths for Justice, to present some suggestions regarding our future action plan.”

This time she lingered on at the podium for a while and smilingly invited Jatin to the microphone before walking back to her seat.

“Friends, we’ve been getting several suggestions during the last week some of which we’ve started implementing and already there are good results. We’ve managed to get more information on the basis of right to information applications, and there has been some media coverage of our point of view. The suggestions made in today’s presentations are in valuable and will help to guide us in future.

“Incorporating various suggestions received so far, these appears to be wide agreement on the need for a peaceful protest demonstration before the housing society’s office after two days, to be followed a little later by a public hearing which will conclude with a press-conference.

“We’ve planned for some significant media coverage on the day of the protest demonstration in daily newspapers and we hope that this will give us a good start. We have to get a much larger number of people for this protest than the normal gatherings of Youths for Justice. Only then the protest will make an impact. So we really have to work very hard during the next two days for this. High hopes for mobilisation are on Imitiaz Uncle and Ranvinder Singh. Uncle David will co-ordinate the media side. A core committee comprising Preeti, Mohini, Venkat, Shivram and myself will co-ordinate other arrangements with the help of all of you. All of us have to contribute our maximum to make this event a success as this will be our first real public event when we hope to reach much beyond our normal support bases.”



 

On the evening of the same day another meeting took place in the remaining forest area of Shining Green. This meeting of the birds and animals of this forest was presided over as earlier by Nightouter the owl.

After various birds and animals had settled down at their usual places, Nightouter spoke, “Friends, last time we met we discussed how we’ll defend our habitat rights, our right to live and exist, when some human beings come to cut most of the remaining trees of this forest. We also discussed that we should join those human beings who for their own reasons are also opposing the cutting of trees. Now it appears that such an opportunity is coming very soon. Leader and Senator have brought the news that just two more moons from now, there will be a protest against any further felling of trees for constructing of buildings. So this may be just the right time for us to join the opposition. At the last meeting we had asked how various groups among as well join this fight. Now we must finalise our preparations as  the day of action is near. Please come to the upper branch and inform about your preparations.”

First came a group of bees and wasps. Their group leader said, “We’ve planned our attack up to the last detail. Who’ll lead the charge and who’ll strike from behind. Our stinging will be so fierce that no one will dare to cut trees again.”

Then the group-leader of crows and parrots came to the upper branch, “We’ve also planned out the most minute details. These tree-fellers will not be able to recover from our beak bites for a long time.”

Finally the group leader of monkeys jumped to the upper branch and shouted, “We monkeys will provide a show of strength to proclaim that trees belong to us and not to men. We’ve hereditary and ancestral rights which we’ll proclaim.”

At this stage Nightouter intervened, “It is very well and brave of you to plan such fierce attacks. But have you also thought enough about which group of human beings you will attack? You’ll be going to a meeting place where there’ll be two sections of human beings. Some of them will be supporters of tree-felling. Some of them will be opposing tree-felling. You have to be very careful to identify the right target. If by mistake you attack those who oppose tree-felling, then this will be most harmful for our cause. So first and foremost I want to ask you whether you know how to identify the enemy, how to find out whom to attack and whom to spare?”

The group-leaders of wasp, bees, parrots, crows and monkeys were all completely blank when faced with this question. In fact they had not given a thought to this.

Nightouter reprimanded them, “Here you are talking as if you’ve planned out the most minute details, but actually you do not know whom to attack and whom to spare, how to differentiate friend from foe. If by mistake you’d attacked our friends, imagine the harm that would’ve done to our cause. So please be more careful in future to avoid such mistakes.”

Monkeys, wasps, bees, parrots and crows heard this with their  heads bowed low, and wondered how such an obvious fact could’ve escaped them in all their planning.

Nightouter continued, “I now request Leader to come to the upper branch to kindly guide all our brave soldiers about how to identify the enemy.”

Leader now took his seat from where all the assembled  birds, animals and insects could see him. He spoke like a teacher emphasising a crucial lesson, “Dear soldiers and all friends, only a few human beings care for protecting us and protecting our interests. So we’ve to be very careful not to harm them even by mistake. We should remember this first and foremost when we march out for action after two moons.

“We should remember also that the meeting where we’ll be going has been mainly organised by our friends. However as I’ve learnt with the help of my respected friend Senator, the other side consisting of our enemies who want to cut down most trees have conspired to disrupt this meeting by bringing in a lot of hoodlums. We’ve to attack these hoodlums while carefully sparing our friends.

“I along with Senator will be there to guide you in identifying the enemy. As there are a few trees around the meeting place which is being held under a tent, it should not be too difficult for us to hide ourselves well and wait for a suitable opportunity to attack. You will have to restrain yourself and wait patiently till you get the ‘go-ahead’ signal from me. Senator will help you to identify the enemy. Please ensure that you behave like very disciplined solders and target only the enemy.”

Next it was the turn of Senator the parrot, widely considered to be the wisest among all the birds and animals. He rose to take his position at a specially designated place and said, “Distinguished speakers in the upper branch and all other friends in the audience, the destiny of earth is all too often decided only by the single species of human beings and it is only rarely that members of other species get a chance to make a small intervention. Such a chance for our brethem of Shining Green Forests has come now. As my distinguished companions Nightouter and Leader have already pointed out before me, if our intervention is to be positive and helpful we need to carefully distinguish friend from foe.

“But beyond this I cannot help thinking more deeply about why the majority of human beings do not use their enormous energy and brains to play a more protective role. If they want, they can easily protect the entire forest very well and thereby save our habitats. If they want they can keep the rivers and tanks filled with plentiful water and free of pollution. All our fellow-beings in water then would be safe and healthy. But today we see them dying because so much water has been extracted from water-bodies and the remaining water is badly polluted. The result is that fish and other life-forms of water are badly in danger.

“And what about us? Our numbers have dwindled rapidly as forests have been cut and poachers have been allowed to kill and maim us. Just imagine how much better would’ve been life if human beings had a protective attitude towards all other forms of life. As the most powerful species on earth, this protective role is the only righteous role for human beings but it chooses to play a destructive role, causing massive distress among all of us animals and birds. The only saving grace is that at least a small minority of human beings still cares for us and our habitats. And we must support this minority when they need our support.”

All birds and animals had a tremendous respect for Senator, but it was past their normal sleeping time and seeing how difficult it was for them to keep away sleep, Nightouter signalled to Senator and the wise parrot reluctantly had to bring his speech on the follies of humankind to an abrupt end.



 

However a smaller group engaged in intense discussion in a penthouse of Glittering Apartments was not at all troubled by sleep. They had bottles of expensive whisky to keep them in high spirits. More than that, they had with them Babli to provide them welcome diversion from their conspiratorial planning and discussion.

They were sitting in a small part of the new up coming Glittering Apartments which had been almost completed. This was a very small complex which had been built hurriedly and even without the necessary permission so that the high luxury construction complete with extensive lawns and a sprawling swimming pool could be shown to potential buyers of huge new houses to be constructed under the Glittering Apartment project as a sub-part of the wider Shining Green Project. Meanwhile, and specially so at late night, this newly constructed complex also served as a meeting and entertainment place for the small coterie who now controlled the Shining Green Apartments by hook or by crook – manipulating housing society elections, promoting a network of patronage on the one hand and not hesitating to use dirty tricks and even open violence against opponents on the other hand.

It was nearing midnight when the door bell rang and in came a worried looking Deendayal. However his face relaxed and he smiled broadly when he saw Babli. He shook hands with the men and greeted Babli thrice within a short time.

“I must state frankly that I became quite worried today. Jatin and his men have been going everywhere to meet our senior officers as well as editors and political leaders. I wonder what will happen now.”

“Relax, Mr. Dayal, relax”, Shroff reassured him, “We’re here to look after all your worries. If the other side has been active, we’ve not been idle either. You’ll see soon that every action of Jatin and co. has been counter-attacked by us. So just take this glass of a very special brand of whisky I brought specially for you and relax. Besides, Babli is here to take away all your worries.”

Deendayal smiled , looking excitingly at Babli. Babli smiled back, because she was supposed to but her mind was far away from entertaining these crooks. She was thinking constantly about what she had just heard and seen. Before Deendayal had come in, Shroff had passed a file to Nekram saying with a sense of urgency that this has to be definitely destroyed next morning.

Babli eyed this file closely, thinking how invaluable this file will be for Jatin.



 4

It was only 5 am but Jatin was already dressed up and ready to leave his home for what would surely be a very eventful day.

Jatin and his companions had worked very hard to make this day’s events a success. This would be a culmination of their two years of effort. Jatin was enthused about the protest that had been planned as the big event of the day, but he also had many apprehensions. In fact so many that he had not been able to sleep properly at night. He realised that he badly needed some sound sleep, but kept tossing in his bed as several fears and apprehensions refused to leave his mind. He had set the alarm clock for 3 am but there was no need for this. He was already awake when the alarm rang. In fact he had hardly slept at all.

Jatin placed all the necessary papers very carefully in his bag. Then he took out his diary and again consulted his check-list. He noted down the tasks still to be taken before the meeting started. Then he took out his motor-cycle and drove towards Preeti’s home.

Preeti greeted him very warmly. Her mother Savitri had been as active as Preeti and had prepared breakfast very early in the morning. Despite their protest she prevailed upon Preeti and Jatin to get adequate nourishment. “You will be able to work properly only when you’ve some strength in your body”, she kept telling them in an effort to make them accept more food.

However this morning Jatin and Preeti could take only a passing interest in food as they eagerly compared their notes and check-lists for the day’s meeting. Some last minute additions were made followed by a few phone calls. They were now ready to leave, but still had to wait for the newspapers to be delivered.

Last evening Preeti had informed the newspaper agency to deliver a copy each of all the leading newspapers and as many as 30 copies of The News Post. David Paul had been writing for this local newspaper and he had met the editor several times for a special coverage of the recent developments in Shining Green.

Although the final report had been written by David, Jatin, Preeti and others had also worked for long hours to provide all the precise details and data to make this a very accurate investigation report. The editor had promised that this article will be published very prominently today as a centre-spread. Other editors had also given some assurances, but the big hopes of Youths for Justice rested on the special coverage promised by The News Post. This report had been written in such a way that a very accurate summary of the entire investigation of Youths for Justice could reach a larger number of people as well as decision-takers through the newspaper.

As the door-bell rang Preeti rushed to the door and almost snatched the big bundle from the hands of newspaper vendor. Both she and Jatin pored anxiously over The News Post. There was no mention at all of the expected report on the front page. Nervously they turned the pages to see the centre-spread. There was a huge splash about a new film actress with pictures in various stages of undress and an eight-column interview headlined ‘Shaline says she is ready for exposure! In utter disgust Preeti threw away the paper, but Jatin picked it up to check the other pages. No, he checked and re-checked but Uncle David’s article was simply not there.

Then suddenly a full-page advertisement caught his eye. Earlier he had ignored the advertisements. In bold headlines this advertisement announced ‘A Decade of the Amazing Progress of Shining Green Apartments – A Model Housing Society for Urban Development’. The advertisement then went out to provide details of all the new buildings constructed in recent times. There was a special box-item in the advertisement about the ‘Great Potential of Glittering Apartments – Our Most Promising Venture’. The box was accompanied by a colour picture of a luxury house with a big lawn and swimming pool. Of course there was not a single word about the serious safety threats, destruction of trees, other ecological ruin and glaring violations of rules and regulations.

Towards the end of advertisement it was written in bold italics.

Warning

          Existing and future potential property owners and residents of Shining Green are warned against a bunch of rumour mongers who at the behest of other property developers are spreading false scare-stories about imaginary problems in Shining Green. They keep mentioning an official inquiry report. We wish to inform all concerned that there has been no, repeat no inquiry report. Only suggestions for further improvements by some experts were obtained and in future also we are always ready for constructive suggestions as it is our constant endeavour to keep on making improvements to serve you better.

Both Preeti and Jatin were stunned when they read this. Jatin’s mind worked furiously to comprehend how this could have happened. Only yesterday morning he had confirmed from his friend in the News Post that David Paul’s article was being published there next day. This means someone must have gone to meet the owner later with the advertisement and made a lavish payment to stop the article while publishing the advertisement.

But how could the advertisement make this absurd and entirely false claim about there being no inquiry report. Jatin rang up his best contact in the Urban Development Authority. Yes there have been some highly disturbing developments, the voice from the other end said. Two members of the committee disassociated themselves from some of the statements made in the original report. This provided the higher officials an excuse to say that as the original report could not be called a unanimous report, several deletions will have to be made from it. Now only a few recommendations of a general nature are likely to have survived in this report, he said, and these are likely to be released as suggestions for improvement. The original report has been taken completely off the record.

Jatin flared with anger as he switched off the phone. Preeti was crestfallen. Savitri tried to say a few words of encouragement, but these could not provide much solace to the youths who felt bitter and angry. Hurriedly they went through other newspapers but there was hardly any coverage of today’s protest worth mentioning.

As he drove towards the protest site, the apprehension and fears which had troubled Jatin last night kept coming back with increasing fury and frequency. The only solace came from the soothing contact his body had from the tender hands of Preeti.

When they reached the protest site, the first sight appeared to be quite satisfying. As far as the arrangements – the tent, chairs etc. were concerned, Venkat had done a good job. He had used the low budget carefully to ensure that all necessities were provided. Again Shivram had done a great job at setting up the banners and posters. Particularly useful were the posters that displayed the main allegations made by Youths for Justice and the demands made by them.

But when Jatin looked more closely, some aspects of the gathering disturbed him. He could recognise only a few faces as members or supporters of Youths for Justice. There were simply too many strangers, some with hostile appearance, the kind of characters whom one would usually recognise as goons. Jatin first grew intensely disturbed, then shrugged off his thoughts as perhaps exaggerated if not imagined.

Just then Uncle David appeared, looking crestfallen and profusely apologetic.

“I am really sorry Jatin that the article didn’t appear, but I still can’t understand what happened. The editor had assured me that it’ll be published today and when I rang him today to inquire why it wasn’t published, he didn’t even pick up the phone.”

“Such things do happen Uncle David, and we all know how hard you had worked at it. So please don’t feel bad about it. You have to play a very important role today to explain the entire background of our protest.”

David’s spirits were revived to some extent and taking a seat, he took out a notebook to revise the main points of his presentation today.

As Preeti joined Shivram and Venkat to make some improvements in the first few rows meant for VIPs and media persons, Jatin took another careful look at the assembling people. Still not enough signs of our known supporters, he told himself. Then suddenly the reality struck him like a knife. Imitiaz Ali had not come yet, and so hadn’t Ranvinder. These two were expected to mobilise the most people. This is why the number of our known supporters appears to be so thin, he told himself.

Jatin quickly took out his mobile phone and rang Imitiaz uncle. No reply. He then rang Ranvinder Singh. Again no reply.

Feeling intensely worried now, Jatin rushed to Preeti to consult her. Just then Preeti’s phone rang. It was Mohini, her voice betraying her deep anxiety. “Preeti”, she blurted, “Ranvinder has changed his plans at the last moment. Instead of bringing his supporters to the main protest meeting, he has taken them to a separate direct action protest to occupy the up-coming ‘Glittering Green’ buildings, where the new office of the society is now located.”

When Preeti informed Jatin about this in a hushed tone, he quickly asked her to manage the situation here for some initial time with Shivram, Venkat and David Uncle as he himself rushed off on his motorcycle to the new housing society office. Preeti shouted after him to be careful.

Jatin had a feeling that he is riding into a storm. It seemed all his apprehensions were coming true. He reached the housing society office in the middle of a huge turmoil. It appeared that the housing society bosses had been well prepared for any protest action. Their security guards attacked and quickly overpowered the few protesters that Ranvinder had brought with him in a hurry. The police was also called in by them and highly exaggerated charges of violent attack were foisted on the protesters.

By the time Jatin reached the ‘occupation’ site the police was already carrying away Ranvinder and other protesters. Jatin tried to talk to the police officials. They recognised him as a senior activist who had been involved in several movements. But they refused to consider his request for releasing his friends or even to allow him to talk to them for some time. Jatin could at best only wave to his friends in the police van shut off from all sides, and shout a few words of encouragement.

As the van drove away, Jatin rushed back towards the main protest site. Over an hour had passed since he left, and the protest meeting had started in his absence. Shivram was co-ordinating the proceedings, while David Paul had already started his main speech.

Standing on a corner of the stage, Jatin tried to seize the situation. He noticed that the number of their supporters was still thin. Imitiaz Uncle had still not come, nor had any of his well-known companions. None of the senior politicians who had been invited had arrived yet. A number of hostile-looking persons whom Jatin had never seen before in the Shining Green complex were sitting together in a group.

As soon as Uncle David started discussing the inquiry report, some of these youths got up and shouted that no such report existed. David also got angry and replied that he should be allowed to explain the real situation. Some of these youths then advanced menacingly towards him while Shivram and Venkat rushed towards David to protect him. Utter confusion prevailed and in the melee someone hit David on his face with a blunt object David fell down bleeding from his mouth. Preeti, Jatin and other members of Youths for Justice rushed towards him. At the same time the outsiders who had engineered this disturbance took out hammer-like objects and prepared to attack Youths for Justice members. The few policemen present on duty suddenly could not be seen.

Just when it appeared that the outsiders were about to attack, something very strange happened. There was a big buzz and several bees and wasps appeared from nowhere. They stung the outsiders again and again till they shouted in pain, running around with swollen face. Then even more suddenly parrots and crows appeared from nowhere, biting them with their beaks with as much force the birds could summon. As the shrieks grew louder, some monkeys also joined the attackers. Those who were about to attack now fled the scene in complete confusion, with monkeys, crows, parrots, wasps and bees in hot pursuit.

Everyone was greatly surprised at this sudden turn of events, but there was no time to speculate about what had happened. There was a very hurried consultation. Shivram, Venkat and Mohini took charge of the protest meeting. It was decided that in view of several surprising developments, it will be better to conclude this protest action quickly with a resolution to continue peaceful protest further.

All this time Preeti was cleaning Uncle David’s injury with the help of her handkerchief and a bottle of water. As soon as the few consultations, were over, Jatin borrowed Mohni’s car and Preeti hurriedly drove towards Jain Nursing Home where she had good friends.

 

As Preeti sat at the steering wheel, Jatin helped Uncle David to sit comfortably in the back seat. He sat next to him, holding his face a little upwards to reduce the possibility of further bleeding. As she waited at a red light, Preeti snatched a quick moment to ring her mother and ask her to send someone to Jain Nursing Home with some cash.

The doctor who examined Uncle David said that the injury was not deep and can be healed soon. But keeping in view David’s fragile health and the shock he had experienced, he would like to keep him under observation for 24 hours. So after the initial treatment and prescription of medicines, he was transferred to a room. Preeti went to make arrangements for his lunch and also brought some tea and biscuits for Jatin and herself.

After the nourishment Jatin said, “Uncle, you should rest now. I did not want to create a scare earlier, but shall I now inform Roger?

Uncle David was a bachelor, Roger, his nephew, was his closest relative in the city. Jatin knew him to be a helpful and affectionate nephew, and thought that his presence here was needed.

“Yes please call him”,  David said, “But don’t say anything that will worry him too much. He’ll be in his office. Let him take his own time to come.”

Jatin rang up Roger on his mobile, gave the essential information but in a gentle reassuring, comforting way so that he wouldn’t worry too much.

“You’ve asked me to take rest, ” Uncle David told Jatin and Preeti, ” but I feel a strong urge to speak to you. I knew you’ve important work to do, but if it is possible for you then please stay with me for some time.”

“We can’t even think of leaving you alone Uncle. Of course we’ll be with you for as long as you want and certainly till Roger come.” Preeti replied.

David was in a deeply thoughtful mood. He asked for a second pillow so that he could be in a more communicative position with the two youths and then said, “I’ve been meeting both of you only occasionally in the context of your organisation’s work, but I feel a closeness, a bonding to you like you are my own children, a part of my family. It is partly because you’ve been very kind and respectful to me, but I think it is also because I see in you an image of what I desperately what all youth to be, and what I partially tried to do when I was your age.”

Both the youths sitting in front of him also felt a surge of emotions for the gentle elderly person, who had become a dear uncle for many idealist youths like them. They pulled their chairs closer to his – bed.

David Paul continued in a voice which was soft and gentle yet had a strong emotional appeal. “When I was a young man I had several source of inspiration. First in my family and community life, I was very inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. Later as I read more and more about the freedom movement in India I was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Badshah Khan, whom we also called the Frontier Gandhi. The sacrifice made by Shahid Bhagat Singh and his colleagues also made a lasting impact on me.

“From diverse inspiration sources what appealed most to me was that one should devote one’s life to reducing distress and its causes. As I thought more about this, it appeared to me that most distress is caused by relations of dominance, the tendency to dominate others or subjugate others. This is true not just of relationships among human beings, this is also true of relationships of human beings with various forms of nature and with other forms of life. The urge to conquer and subdue mature has caused such great havoc, as also the tendency to hunt, kill or endanger animals and birds as though the planet exists only for human beings.

“I was thinking of all these big things but I was capable of only very small things. First of all I had to look after my parents, arrange for my younger sister’s education and marriage. But in the middle of all these responsibilities I tried to live my life according to my convictions. Adopting independent writing as my career was the way out for me to combine my family responsibilities with my wider convictions.

“But as the years passed it turned out to be an increasingly difficult way of earning my livelihood. I realised that there was increasingly less space in the media for what I had to say. Whereas I had this tremendous urge to write about what appeared to be the most critical issues of our planet, the editors made fun of my views and were willing at best to accommodate my reporting on some local issues.

“I adjusted to this role also as I felt that global reality is reflected in local issues. Look at our own struggle to save Shining Green. It is basically about protecting the very survival of not just people but also the birds, animals and even insects in the remaining forest areas of the society. It  is this aspect I emphasise in my writings, which is one small aspect of the much wider challenge of saving life on the entire earth. As the climate change accentuates and stocks of nuclear weapons pile up, it is no exaggeration that diverse life and life-creating conditions on the entire planet are increasingly threatened. We know the crisis exists, but precisely little has been achieved to actually prevent this crisis. A reflection of this we see here at the local level where several of us know, even the most powerful persons knew that a survival crisis is building up fast, yet nothing significant is done to check this trend. Often those who wield power take steps that will actually worsen the crisis.”

“This is the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, and it is constantly a struggle how we can retain our relevance in these difficult times. Yet we should never give up. Our efforts may be small but it is the combination and cooperation of several such small efforts which can eventually bring significant change. May be I’ll not live to see these change but I hope and bless you that you should see that change and help to bring that change.”

Saying this Uncle David closed his eyes, partly from emotions, partly because he felt very tired.

Listening to Uncle David had made a deep emotional impact on Preeti and Jatin. Preeti now got up and placing her hands gently over David’s head said, “No Uncle David, you too will live to see this day, and the world will also recognise your contribution, your tireless work of many decades.”

David’s eyes moistened as he held Preeti’s hand for some time, then he appeared to drift towards sleep. Rest was badly needed by him, and Preeti gestured to Jatin to remain quiet. They draw their chairs closer to each other and spoke in hushed tones.

Jatin went out to ring Venkat. He soon come back to inform Preeti in a soft voice that the remaining protest had passed peacefully but the gathering remained small. Imitiaz could not join till the end, and this remained a big source of worry and uncertainty. Both Preeti and Jatin realised in their hearts that the protest had failed to make any significant impact, but they didn’t say this openly to each other.

Roger came in after two hours. He had first gone home from office from where he informed some other family friends about the incident. He had now come prepared to spend the night with his uncle in the hospital.

After introducing him to the nurse and communicating some medical information Preeti and Jatin come out of the hospital.

The big question before them was whether to first go to Imitiaz’s home or visit Ranvinder in the jail. They opted for the latter option, as jail allowed visitors only for an hour during the evening.

Thanks to her human rights work, Preeti had good contacts in jail too and was familiar with the procedure for meeting prisoners.

Ranvinder was very happy to see them, and apologise for his ‘adventurist’ (as he now called it) decision to occupy the Glittering Apartment Complex without enough preparation and without informing the wider organisation about it. He said, “I regret my decision now and realise that the main protest must have suffered due to our absence, but as I told you earlier also I’ve this constant pressure building up within me for action to be so effective as to achieve some solid results quickly. I find it difficult to wait for too long and go from one meeting to another without achieving any tangible results.”

Jatin replied, “I can understand your feelings. Ranvider, and you also know that we all admire you for your courage and the intensity of your feelings. But please remember that we face a very adverse situation in which even most of the people for whose safety and survival we are struggling are not with us yet. Those who are guilty of destroying the society not only have money and influence to keep the authorities on their sides, they can also distribute patronage and concessions to keep most people on their side. This is why we’ve to carefully search for a path on which our efforts can be sustained over a longer period till most people can join us or support us, instead of talking a path on which our effort can come crashing down within a short time.”

“Yes, I realise  the significance of what you’ve saying and will certainly be more careful in future.” Ranvinder replied.

Meanwhile Preeti had gone out of the meeting room (where mobile phones were not allowed) to make a few phone calls and she returned now to inform that Venkat and Mohini had been pursuing lawyers to arrange bail for Ranvinder and his companions. It was likely that they will be released on bail next morning.

Meanwhile family members of Ranvinder also came to meet him in jail. Preeti reassured them about efforts for early release and after exchanging greetings she came out of the imposing jail with Jatin. They were both feeling hungry but avoided the temptation of stopping for a snack and straightaway took the road to Imitiaz Ali’s residence.



 

When their car stopped in Imitiaz’s residence, Jatin could sense that something was amiss. A group of worried looking men was standing outside, talking in hushed tones. As Jatin and Preeti walked towards them, they recognised Rehman, the eldest son of Imitiaz.

“Oh I am so sorry I could not inform you, ” Rehman said as he stepped forward to meet them, “Abba (father) had told me to inform you about his injury a long time back, but I was so busy in arranging the treatment that I forgot.”

“Injury? What injury? What happened to Imitiaz Uncle?” Jatin questioned anxiously.

“Today morning Abba had stepped out to mobilise some people to take them to the protest organised by you. As he was crossing the main road to go to the lanes on the other side a car hit him from behind and then sped away. Everyone says it looks like a deliberate hit-and-run and not an accident.”

Preeti was almost in tears as she asked. “How serious is the injury.”

“We’ve been really lucky as with the grace of God, the injuries are much lesser than what these could have been. It appears Abba moved away at just the right moment so that the car merely glazed him and could not hit him with full force. Anyway, the doctors said there is no fracture but still he’ll need bed rest for three days and medicines for a week. Initially it was quite painful but after medicines and some rest Abba is feeling much better. He will certainly be very happy to see you. But please don’t tell him that I forgot to inform you as then he’ll be really cross with me.”

Jatin smilingly placed his hand on Rehman’s shoulder, as they together entered Imitiaz’s room, Preeti following close behind.

“Look Abbu who has come to meet you.”

Imitiaz Ali’s face brightened as he saw Jatin and Preeti standing with folded hands.

Before he could ask any question, Rehman intervened, “I informed them promptly as you told me. This is why they’ve come to meet you.”

Jatin and Preeti settled down in chairs near Imitiaz Uncle, while Rehman left to get some tea and snacks. Imitiaz described the incident from which it became clear that it was a deliberate hit-and-run case. Preeti then told him about the attack on Uncle David, and how a bigger clash could be averted due to a very strange but welcome intervention by insects, birds and animals.

“Such are the ways of God,” Imitiaz said, “Those who fight for justice sometimes get help from the most unlikely source. Unexpected sources of help appear which cannot be explained easily.”

“But Uncle in a single day both you and Uncle David have been attacked. Both of you have to suffer so much pain due to involvement in our efforts. I can’t help felling very guilty about it.” Preeti said as tears trickled down her face.

“No dear daughter do not  cry”, Imitiaz said placing his arm on Preeti’s back, “We have not suffered due to your movement, as your movement is our movement. Besides any pain suffered for a just cause is not a pain really but a measure of how worthy life we have led. I feel proud to be associated with Youths for Justice and will never step back from this association no matter what price I have to pay for this. When youths like  you come forward for social causes, work so hard and take so much risk, then how can an elder like me stay behind?”

As Imitiaz said this very gently and with great affection, Preeti simply buried her face in Imitiaz’s bosom to seek solace. She had lost her father several years back, and she badly needed this fatherly support on a day of such adversities. Suddenly she also felt a strong need to be with her mother Savitri, but she knew that’ll have to wait for some time.

Jatin too was overcome with emotion. He had been away from his family  for a long time. He had very soft feelings which he concealed under his somewhat aloof exterior. But on such occasions his innermost tender feelings for relationships surfaced and he was overcome with emotions.

Imitiaz gently helped Preeti to regain her posture and said, “Never forget my dear children that as there are so many difficulties and hurdles on the path of justice and truth, so those of us who choose to tread this path have to create strong sources of strength to overcome these difficulties. And this strength comes above all from our relationships. If our relationships are deep, strong and infallible, then these relationships enable us to face the biggest adversities with a smiling face and a brave heart.

“We’re passing through very difficult times where even religious platforms are being used very shamelessly to promote injustice and inequality and even scriptures whose core contains the most noble ideas are being misinterpreted to spread hatred and violence instead of love and harmony. I’ve myself suffered much when I opposed these tendencies I was defamed terribly by my opponents who said that I do not follow all rituals and work with those who are not religious or belong to other religions. But I stood steadfast in my belief that the path of truth and justice is also the path of religion. To be religious you should be on the side of justice and truth, there is no bigger test of real spirituality.

“So it is that I keep getting involved with causes such as Youths for Justice. Keeping in view the worldwide problems, this may be only a small battle that you are fighting, but I’ve seen from close quarters how sincere and truthful your effort is. It is better to suffer pain and injury for such a noble task than to acquire wealth and fame in work which is based on hypocrisy and double-talk.”

What Uncle Imitiaz said helped greatly to revive the spirit of Preeti and Jatin, and with better spirits appetite also returned. They feasted on the snacks, sweets and tea Rehman generously provided, and then left wishing Imitiaz a speedy recovery.



 5

As  the first public protest organised by Youths for Justice against the Shining Green management failed to create any big impact, the management was in an upbeat mood about the success of its manipulative strategy and proceeded to carry it further. Its next step was to organise a media event and show-case the ‘achievements’ of the management before a group of media representatives.

As the poor safety conditions of G block inhabited by weaker sections had been highlighted by Youths for Justice time and again, the management decided to concentrate on highlighting the ‘achievements’ of this block. Very quickly the entire outer walls and gates were painted at management’s expense as a special concession. Some long pending plumbing work was completed in record time to please the residents. The main road from the gate to the apartments was renovated. Flower pots were placed at several places with blooming flowers in them, particularly near the place where the media meeting was to be held. Advertisement hoardings procured with the help of various commercial establishments with which the management had cozy relations provided an upmarket appearance to the colony of weaker sections. Suddenly things appeared to be much more ‘shining’ and bright, even garish, in this generally neglected part of the apartments complex. Most residents, particularly those whose plumbing work had been done for free, were happy at this and agreed to come to the media event to praise the management’s efforts.

But Shivram, the leading representative of ‘Youths for Justice’ in G block, questioned all this. “What can be achieved by merely painting the outer walls with bright colours when the foundations have been weakened and cracks have started appearing in several walls. I can show these cracks in at least 20 flats. We have complete documentation on, the flat numbers and the exact place of cracks. The big safety issues can not be solved with flower pots and advertisement hoardings. We need to face the real issues and solve the real problems.”

Almost everyone in G block realised that what Shivram was saying was correct and it was in their longer-term interests. Yet they found the temptation of immediate gains mere alluring. What was clear to them was that this media-event had given the local residents an opportunity to save substantial amount of money in painting and plumbing expenses. This meant a saving of at least a few thousand rupees per family. Besides the entire complex had a brighter look and there’ll be a grand party soon after the media event particularly for the most active participants. Quietly, in a separate corner, expensive alcoholic drinks will also be provided.

These immediate benefits were enough to engage most of the influential residents in preparations for the media event and the dinner party to follow this. The Shining Green management sent two commercial photographers to take pictures of G block from all the bright angles. The newly painted walls and gates, the newly placed flower pots and newly renovated roads and the shining new advertisement hoardings were to be highlighted in these photographs with smiling well-dressed people. Shivram went up to the photographers and asked them to take pictures of cracked walls and ceilings, but they ignored him.

Shivram had a few committed supporters and they decided to organise a small protest before media persons. The Shining Green management called in special security guards with strict instructions to keep these trouble-makers away from the main media-event.

G Block wore a festive appearance on the day of the media event. A very expensive tent had been erected, the kind which is used for lavish marriage celebrations and there were decorative banners all around it. Huge banners proclaimed the event and the major achievements of the Shining Green management. Photographs depicting these achievements were displayed prominently.

As the newspaper representatives and TV crews came in, dry fruits, snacks, sweets and drinks were served generously. The proceedings started with Nekram, the President of Shining Green addressing the media representatives. Then three influential persons from G block were invited to tell about the achievements of this block. Shroff was about to start the main address when suddenly Shivram and some of his companions appeared at the entrance. They were being pushed back by security guards who were even inflicting blows on them but yet they persisted in shouting, “Don’t hide the truth. We request respected media persons to listen to our point of view’.

Some media persons got up and told the guards to release Shivram and his companions from their grip. Shivram shouted, “With great difficulty I’ve come to tell you that there are many cracked walls and ceilings in G Block. Very serious safety threats have emerged….

“Don’t listen to him. He is a habitual protester who disrupts all our meetings….

“I’ve a right to speak, I’ve the necessary documentation.”

“Take him away”.

“You can’t do this.

“Media should listen to us also”.

A scuffle ensued and there was a lot of confusion. But then suddenly all the voices were stifled by a huge explosion.

Everyone rushed out and looked towards the site of explosion. All that could be seen were huge clouds of dust.

“It appears that the tragedy I warned about has struck”, Shivram shouted. He and his companions rushed towards the site of the explosion, other followed, media-persons clutching their cameras and equipment.

It was a frightening sight. Two over-built flats had simply collapsed like a pack of cards. As the building had just fallen, clouds of dust were still looming all around. As Shivram alone noticed, the two flats which fell were the ones which had been documented as the most dangerous ones in their records, and these records and findings had been submitted to the Urban Development Authority.

But there was not much time for such thoughts as Shivram and his companions soon plunged into the rescue efforts. Fortunately almost all the residents of the flats had gone to the media-meeting and children had not yet returned from the school. Only three elderly persons and a small child who had stayed at home were trapped, but again it was fortunate that they were not buried under rubble. They were visible from a small opening in the rubble and a surviving wall had created a temporary shelter for them. However even this wall could crumble any moment and so it was important to rescue them as early as possible.

Media persons had already called fire brigade and ambulance, Shivram somehow found the time to give a quick action alert ring to Ranvinder who had been just released on bail.

Shivram and his companions combined courage with caution in an exemplary way as they plunged into rescue work. As a part of their involvement with Youths for Justice, they had been trained in disaster relief work. Very carefully they lifted rubble pieces in a such a careful way that there was no chance of other rubble collapsing. Other residents and media persons lent a helping hand.

Ranvinder Singh reached the site with a few friends even before the fire-brigade. He used his towering strength to lift pieces of rubble which other rescue-workers had not been able to lift. Thus he could create an opening which was big enough for a rescue worker to enter. However Ranvinder’s giant body could not enter the opening. Tiny Shivram jumped forward and quickly entered the opening in a second. Then he first lifted the trapped child and handed her to Ranvinder and Ranvinder in turn handed her to other rescue workers. As the child finally reached her parents and they hugged her with tears rolling down their cheeks, all the gathered persons cheered loudly.

Similarly the three elderly persons were rescued and united with their families.

The media-persons had been hyper-active all along taking pictures of the rescue work while also lending a helping hand to the rescue team. Soon the rescue work was being telecast on leading TV channels. When Shivram and his friends had gone for protest action, they wore Youths for Justice badges to highlight their identity. As they later threw themselves into the rescue work, they were constantly under the lens of media-persons. Soon the sight of youth risking their life in rescue work caught the imagination of people all over the country and people started inquiring about Youths for Justice! Media-persons started searching for Shivram and Ranvinder, Venkat and Mohini, Preeti and Jatin.



It was not easy to get away from media persons but the core-group of ‘Youths for Justice’ somehow found the time to meet for a mid-night consultation.

Jatin said, “I can’t find words to praise the efforts of Shivram and our entire unit of G block. They have shown great courage and foresight. Do you remember what Shivram said at an earlier meeting? He said we should take special care of the unit led by him as people from weakest section lived here. Well, it is the ‘weakest’ section which have proved to be our greatest source of strength. I would go to the extent that they have given a new lease of life to Youths for Justice which was facing a great uncertainty. I would also like to express great appreciation of the efforts of Ranvinder Singh and his colleagues in reaching the rescue site so quickly and helping in a big way. Shivram told me that if Ranvinder had not single-handedly  lifted the bigger stones so quickly, then the life of trapped persons could have been threatened any moment as the rubbles were very precariously balanced and at least a part of the remaining wall could have crumbled any time.”

Ranvinder Singh interrupted, “Please let me also take this opportunity to apologise to the entire organisation for my misdirected actions- on the protest day. I keep thinking that if I had remained at the main protest site, I may have succeeded in preventing the attack on Uncle David. I now realise that courage is most fruitful only when combined with caution and discipline.”

Jatin patted him on his back and said, “Ranvinder you’ve always been and always will be a big asset to the organisation. We all make mistakes and learn from them.”

Preeti said, ” I think that now we have a real chance to make our public hearing a big success. Today TV networks have highlighted our work so much and my friends in the print media tell me that we are going to be on the front page tomorrow. So we can rest assured that our opponents can’t use any violence against us now and also they’ll be under pressure to come to the hearing and answer our questions. We must use this opportunity to expose the reality before the public and media. Also let’s call some eminent persons as panelists so that they can see this exposure and hopefully help to take it further.”

Venkat responded, “I too can smell a real big opportunity for us in this public hearing, but there is one big problem that still remains. We still don’t have the original report of the inquiry committee, and what exists now in official records has been heavily watered down.”

Jatin said with a broad smile, “Here I have to give you a really good news. Today a lady who is close to the Shining Green’s top management came to meet me. She was earlier my classmate as well as neighbor but later we lost touch. But she had obviously been following our efforts as today she suddenly and secretly came to meet me and handed me an entire file. This contains the entire original inquiry committee report as well some false accounts maintained by the top management. She told me that this file was meant to be destroyed but she somehow got hold of it and brought this to me. Now I’ve kept the file in very safe custody with a senior lawyer friend, who’ll bring its photostat copies to the public hearing.”

The faces of the entire group lit up as they heard this. They knew that now their position had become really strong.

Only Preeti seemed a bit subdued as a slight shadow appeared on her face. As the group prepared to leave she drew Jatin aside and asked a trifle too suspiciously, “Hey who is this lady?”



 6

The organisers had expected a good gathering at the public hearing, but nothing like the overwhelming rush of people that actually emerged. Youths for Justice had collected donations to hire a bigger hall than they normally did, but even this did not prove adequate to accommodate the people who started coming in much before the starting time. Extra chairs had to be brought in and finally several people had to squat on the floor.

Sumer Pandit, the well-known TV anchor had been invited by Youths for Justice to conduct the proceedings. He started the proceedings at the right time, “Friends and eminent panelists, this is an important democratic event that enables people to be better informed about crucial issues of their area and also to participate in the decision-making process. Democracy can function effectively only when citizens are well-informed about important issues.

“The affairs of Shining Green Society have been sporadically discussed but matters have come to a head due to the recent house collapse. It is now being widely said that a much bigger tragedy can occur if remedial steps are not taken immediately. Youths for Justice, the organisation which has organised this public hearing and has highlighted issues relating to Shining Green from time to time, has gone to the extent of alleging that these housing complexes face a survival crisis as the safety of most houses is threatened to a greater or lesser extent.

“To help the people, the public authorities and the media to gain a better grasp of the issue, this public hearing will hear the views of several eminent experts, panelists and persons having knowledge of local affairs. I would like to first call Rohit Karanjia, eminent architect.

Rohit said that he had for long taken a keen interest in the affairs of the Shining Green as this was planned as a model housing society. He added, “I have closely studied the original plans as well as the actual development. It is clear that there have been glaring violations of rules and regulations. At times first major deviations were made from the plans and later rules were arbitrarily changed to fit in with the changes that had already taken place.”

What is most worrying, Rohit continued, is that many of the changes that were arbitrarily made were such that these have created serious threats to the safety of the housing complexes. Finally a lot of money was earned from these changes but these funds were not used to address the safety concerns.

Next Sumer called Mohan Singh, an expert on natural disasters. Mohan Singh said, “Probably because I have done my doctorate on urban disasters, with special emphasis on floods and landslides, Youths for Justice brought a lot of papers and data relating to Shining Green for my opinion about whether this sprawling housing complex is becoming more prone to disasters.

“I’ve studied the information carefully and my conclusion is that as a result of recent rapid escalation of building activity, quarrying and mining, heavy extraction of water and indiscriminate felling of trees, this housing complex and its surrounding areas have become much more exposed to heavy damage from floods, landslides and land-recession including the threat of building collapse. The possibility of heavy damage from even minor earthquake has increased due to these developments in this region of high seismicity. Also, my study shows that all these dangers will escalate rapidly if the latest phase of construction called Glittering Apartments is given the final go-ahead. I’ve brought my paper containing all technical details with my conclusions and I would like to place a copy before the panelists.

Singh then placed a copy of his papers before the panelists before taking his seat.

Sumer Pandit now invited Kanhai Yadav, a site inspector of Urban Development Authority to present the findings of his inspection of G block following the recent disaster. Kanhai testified, “When I visited G block, I was contacted by some youths led by Shivram who gave me some documents detailing cracks in walls and ceilings of several flats. I visited each one of these flats and found the documents to be precise in their details. I would like to place a copy of these documents before the panelists. The damage already caused is so extensive that very urgent repair work has to be taken up to avoid collapses of the type which occurred recently. Also the factors which caused such serious damage have to be identified carefully and then adequate steps taken to bring these under control.”

As these testimonies were proceeding, the interest of the audience was steadily increasing. Media persons were furiously take notes and camaras were clicking all the time. However the faces of some management committee members and officials were becoming ashen and deeply worried.

The next person to come to the podium was Daya Balmiki. He introduced himself as a resident of G block. He explained that several cracks had appeared suddenly in the walls of his flat. He complained repeatedly to the management committee, but they simply ignored his pleas. He placed copies of nearly a dozen letters he had written to the management committee before the panelists.

Next Sumer introduced David Paul as one of the most respected writers and social commentators. He requested him to keep sitting at his place among the panelists and address the gathering while sitting there. He informed the audience that David had been recently injured in an attack and was too weak to stand. Sumer then requested David to explain the circumstances of the attack on him.

As David gave details of the attack, there was overwhelming feeling of sympathy and support for him among the audience. When he came to the point of someone striking his face with a blunt object, several persons in the audience stood up shouting ‘Shame, shame’ and ‘Punish the attackers without delay’. The members of the management committee now actually trembled in their seats.

Sumer now requested David to give his overall assessment of the issues relating to Shining Green.

David spoke, “I’ve always admired the sincere work of Youths for Justice taken up with deep commitment. This organisation emphasises the most basic issue of survival and safety. It has combined library and internet based research on safety issues with a detailed and careful survey of the entire Shining Green complex. The government should make use of the invaluable data and information base existing with Youths for Justice to launch a new plan for Shining Green with survival and safety as its topmost priorities. If this is not done, tragedies much bigger than the recent house collapse await us in the future.

“Unfortunately the priorities of the present day management have emphasised only expansions of building activity with increasing emphasis  in recent times on luxury housing. There is increasing emphasis on maximising money gains while ignoring the most basic issues of safety and even survival. In recent times the trend towards more and more expensive parties and celebrations has been clearly seen in Shining Green Complex. There is a building boom leading to a lot of cash transactions in turn leading to a splurge of celebrations. But if you look at the serious safety and survival issues detailed in the documents of Youths for Justice, these celebrations look like a dance before death. Only very recently we saw that a big celebration of media event was being planned in a complex when two flats collapsed and the celebration had to be cancelled. Youths for Justice activists told me that hundreds of bottles of alcohol had been bought by the management for the celebration which had to be returned to the dealers after the collapse.

“This is also symbolic of what is happening at a much wider level as there are increasing inequalities, consumerism and luxury consumption in the world even though history’s biggest threat like climate change are on our door. So here and at a wider level we’ve to get our priorities right – priorities of survival and saving life.”

There was a big applause for David which he acknowledged gracefully by bowing his head which was bandaged awkwardly, covering his face and chin as well.

Sumer next called the name of Imitiaz Ali, describing him as an eminent social activist and reformer. Imitiaz could barely stand with the help of a stick, and so he was also asked to speak sitting at his place among panelists.

Sumer asked him, “Isn’t it curious, even mysterious that on the same say of protest when David Paul was attacked, you also become the victim of a hit-and-run case? How is your injury now?

“I’m recovering slowly. Everyone who saw the incident says that it was a deliberate hit and run case. But much more important than my injury is the safety of all residents of Shining Green. As my friend David very rightly said just now, there is a very serious safety and survival crisis here which needs to be tackled on the basis of according it to the topmost priority.

“Certainly this is the most urgent issue but the related issue of who wields power and how should also not be ignored. We are living in a democracy then how is it that some of the most corrupt and reckless persons manage to capture power and then also retain it for a very long time. This question also has to be addressed, as what is happening at Shining Green is also happening at many other places, perhaps not always with such disastrous consequences, but it is nevertheless a very disturbing phenomenon for all those who believe in democracy and democratic values.

“These days there is much talk of improving governance. In my humble opinion, what is most basic to any such reform is that the basic values of truth and honesty should prevail and should be seen to prevail. We should have a system in which it can be seen widely that truth and honesty are valued and honoured. And it is here that the great value of small initiatives like Youths for Justice rests. Such initiatives with their deep sincerity and convictions have kept alive hope in our ability to challenge glaring misuse of power and make corrections before it is too late. For any solutions to the existing crisis in Shining Green to emerge, the voice of Youths for Justice should be carefully heard.”

This turned out to be a particularly appropriate way to conclude for Imitiaz, for the next speaker called by Sumer was none other than Jatin Bannerjee, the President of Youths for Justice. He explained the entire background of the survival and safety crisis building up over the years, and the work done by his organisation for bringing to light various irregularities. “What is most important is that most of the serious irregularities and safety risks exposed by us have been fully confirmed by an official inquiry committee report.”

At this point Shroff jumped from his seat and shouted, “No, there has never been any report like this.”

Sumer requested Shroff, “You will get an opportunity to respond when the present speaker has finished speaking. Please let him finish.”

Shroff shouted even more fiercely, “I’ve heard enough lies but this is the most glaring one. The speaker should take back his lie.”

Sumer turned towards Jatin. Jatin said, “I request that the eminent High Court lawyer Sumit Jain who is also a panelist to respond to this.”

Sumit got up and majestically walked towards the podium, with great confidence, carrying a huge bundle of papers, “The gentlemen from the management side says that this inquiry report doesn’t exist. I’ve here with my 50 copies of this report which I’ve brought here for all panelists and media persons.”

Shroff’s face turned ashen. He had procured what was said to be the only copy of the report from a senior official of the Urban Development Authority after spending a huge amount of money. Then he had given it to Nekram for destroying it as soon as possible. How did this lawyer get this report?

Nekram also trembled in his shoes. He had carefully kept the file in his bag for destroying it next morning, but when he opened his bag in the morning it was missing. He searched it all over but the file could not be traced. He was so afraid of the implications that he didn’t even tell Shroff.

As Sumit returned to his seat with a triumphant smile after making his dramatic intervention, there was a commotion near the entrance to the hall. Word went round that Karamvir Singh, the Minister for Urban Development, has just arrived. Media persons hurried  towards the gate, and the meeting was held up for some time.

However soon order was restored and as the minister took his seat Sumer handed him various papers including the inquiry report. He very briefly explained to him the proceedings so far. The Minister glanced quickly at the report and asked his accompanying officials a few questions.

Meanwhile Jatin returned to the podium to resume his speech, “We welcome the honourable minister to this public hearing and thank him for sparing his valuable time to be with us. As the honourable Minister had joined us only now, I request all of you to kindly give me just ten minutes to repeat some basic facts before the minister.”

As Jatin gave the basic background information, the Minister listened but also kept taking a quick look at the papers.

Jatin concluded, “Basically what Youths for Justice wants is that all the serious safety risks and improper decisions in violating of rules and norms which have created these safety risks should be examined in a completely unbiased and impartial manner. The inquiry report is a very important step in this direction. Secondly, the maximum remedial actions to improve safety should be taken in a well-planned way with the involvement of independent experts. Last but not the least, pending future action, immediate instructions should be issued to stop all those developments which can accentuating the risks – more specifically work on Glittering Green and tree-felling work sanctioned for this should be stopped.”

Jatin returned to his seat and Sumer now called Upkari Shroff, Secretary of Shinning Green Management to present his point of view. Shroff tried to put up a brave face and bowed gracefully in the direction of the Minister.

He said, “Honourable Minister, distinguished panelists and members of the audience, as a firm believer in democratic values I agreed to come to this public hearing even though my previous experience with its organisers “Youths for Justice’ has been that this organisation doesn’t have a constructive approach at all, it wants to create trouble and discontent.”

“Nevertheless I come here with an open mind but I’m sorry that mostly I’ve been hearing only lies and gross exaggerations. We’ll later give a written reply to some of the allegations and this will be made available to the media as well. However briefly let me place before you the reality of our work and achievements. I also request my colleagues to give a publication on the management’s achievements to all panelists and media-persons.

As Nekram and others started distributing the pamphlets, Shroff started a long and boring narrative on the number of buildings constructed roads widened and other such information. People fell relieved when at last he finished his speech.

Sumer then invited the Minister to say a few words. The Minister had been doing some quick thinking. The government was increasingly under attack for corruption and indecisiveness. The media had recently put the government to shame by highlighting several incidents in which corrupt officials and politicians had been exposed but no decisive action was taken against them. Recently the Shining Green Complex had been a major issue in the media and the Minister had no direct and big stake in it. He felt that he could make a big impression by taking some quick decisions that were likely to be widely welcomed by people.

The Minister said, “I had come here mainly to learn about this issue, as a democratic event like such a public hearing provides a great learning opportunity. I am sorry that I was delayed, but still I could hear diverse viewpoints which is good.

“As you know decision-making process needs it own time and procedures. So I am in no position to inform you about our final decision on all matters raised here, but what I can certainly promise you is that in our decisions the affected people will be widely consulted and Youths for Justice will also be properly consulted. Also the decision will be free from any vested interests and we’ll be happy to involve independent experts such as some of the eminent panelists present here. Above all, I can promise that safety will be given the top priority in all decisions concerning Shining Green as has been repeatedly demanded here.

“Finally, let me also say that as far as the possibility of new developments accentuating the safety risks is concerned, I think we can reach a consensus that at least the possibility of further worsening of safety situation should be avoided, particularly in view of the recent collapse of houses. So I think I can legitimately make at least two announcements today that pending a wider evaluation of the entire issue, all work on Glittering Complex is now suspended. Tree felling for this is also to be stopped immediately.”

This announcement drew a roaring applause from the audience. Even some media-persons spontaneously joined the applause. Members of Youths for Justice shook hands with each other and applauded loudly. Preeti had the broadest smile on her face as she waved wildly to Jatin Bannerjee who however, was busy seeing off the minister. Venkat and Ranvinder were helping David Uncle and Imitiaz Uncle to find their way to vehicles waiting for them. Several people went up to the Minister to congratulate him on his prompt on-the-spot decision. In the middle of all this Shroff and Nekram found it prudent to slip away quickly.

*************************************

In the evening another meeting taking place of birds, animals and insects in the forest of Shining Green.

Nightouter said on a cheerful note, “Today I am happy to inform all of you that the decision to cut these trees has been cancelled. All these trees and the forest where we live here are safe now.”

A big cheer went up from the audience. There was much chirping, howling and buzzing. Even those who didn’t understand the implications of what was said felt good to join the cheer with full enthusiasm.

Nightouter waited for the commotion to subside before he resumed, “What is no less heatening for us is that we made a significant contribution to saving these trees. If on the protest day we had not attacked the vandals, then probably many Youths for Justice members could have been injured and so the efforts to save trees could not have proceeded further.”

This led to even more cheering and dancing. The birds and animals who had participated in the attack felt particularly happy and proud. Crows and parrots joined together for a wild dance. Monkeys also leaped around with joy.

It was quite a long time before Nightouter could bring back order to the meeting. When his repeated entreaties finally led to a calmer situation he said, “Enough of cheering and celebration now. On such occasions we should also listen to words of wisdom to guide us in future. So I now request Senator to take the upper branch to speak his words of wisdom.”

Senator flapped his wings and ascended  the upper branch from where he spoke in a very thoughtful mood, “It is good to celebrate. It is good to cheer. We don’t get such opportunities every day, and we should make the most of our moments of happiness.”

“However let me sound a note of caution. We need to maintain our vigilance and be prepared for future dangers. This is only a temporary victory. The work on Glittering Green and the related tree-felling has been only suspended, not given up for good. We’ve to see what happens next. I don’t want to dampen your high spirits today, but let’s not forget that it’s still a world where money rules. Good decisions can be overturned using the power of money and greed. So celebrate by all means but remain well prepared for any adversities.

“Also I must point out that while Youths for Justice is a very good and honest organisation, its members are mostly guided by the aim of saving fellow human beings from harm and hazards. But even these very good people seldom bother to fully include the concerns of mammals, fish, birds, insects and reptiles, in other words all forms of life. Preeti and Jatin are so good, but their concern is mainly for saving fellow human-beings. Even such a wise persons as Imitiaz Ali thinks only of the welfare of human beings. Among them all I’ve seen only David Paul giving serious thought to other forms of life, and that too only in a very limited way.

“So even if, and there is a big if, some safety concerns of Shining Green are taken care of, it is not necessary that we’ll be protected. Our safety, alas, can be threatened even by good persons such as members of Youths for Justice. Our safety will be ensured only when human beings realise that their role on earth is a protective one, to be protective among themselves and to be protective to all forms of life. This is the only legitimate role for a species that has been given overwhelming power over all other millions of species on earth.

“I do not know whether I’ll see such a change in my lifetime, but I certainly pray all the time for such a change among human beings so that they can assume their  badly needed protective role on earth.

“Human beings say that democracy is a sign of progress of their species. We see so many problems in the functioning of their democracy, some of which they also acknowledge. But the biggest problem which human beings never even mention is that their so called inclusive democracy entirely excludes all other species. Some way could have been found to include the concerns of other species but this has not even been attempted.

“So all that I can do is to pray so that human beings get more wisdom to play a protective role as we enter a phase of climate change and weather extremes.”

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.


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