Ranjona Banerji: Need to Think Global, Act Local

15 Mar,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

One more bridge collapse in Mumbai underlines the twin problems of collapsing infrastructure and bad governance. Ironically, the state government is in the throes of planning a $2billion mega “coastal road” to solve Mumbai’s traffic issues. However, what we see before us is the laxity in addressing Mumbai’s commuter issues, where simple maintenance is apparently too much for any government agency to bear.

As the links below make clear, there is already a struggle to shift the blame between the Railways and the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation. This is symptomatic of the apathy towards Mumbai shown by both bureaucrats and politicians, since by my reckoning, 1995. Covering and keeping track of Mumbai city and its civic issues has been at the heart of my journalistic career for several years. Every calamity in the past 25 years has emphasised how badly Mumbai has been treated by those who rule it and are supposed to look after it, and how casually Mumbaikars have taken this apathy.

Since the Elphinstone bridge collapse in 2017, the problem has been clocked. But in spite of several accidents, deaths and injuries since then, we have one more tragedy.

What does the media do? Pay more attention to civic issues for one. As any small survey of what voters want demonstrates, their biggest problems are at the local council level. Think global, act local was the old motto. Get back to that. We see our friends in the media wasting so much time on political back-and-forth and drama that the bricks and mortar get forgotten.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/6-killed-in-mumbai-bridge-collapse-cops-book-bmc-and-railway-officials-for-negligence/articleshow/68418054.cms

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/cover-story/rush-hour-crash-kills-6/articleshow/68418019.cms

The bridge, incidentally, was “audited” recently. But as anyone who pays attention to local news will know, blacklisted contractors and auditors are usually returned to again and again. Either no one else will work with government or, well, is one allowed to mention “corruption” in a BJP-run state?

https://www.mid-day.com/articles/mumbai-bridge-collapse-cst-footover-bridge-was-audited-after-2017-stampede/411351

Of course, I do not expect our news channels – barring perhaps Mirror Now which does focus on local and citizens’ issues – to get into this with any depth or understanding. The way the “debate” was conducted on Times Now on Thursday night, with BJP spokesperson Sanju Verma blaming pedestrians for using the bridge at all, gives one a clear idea of what to avoid if you want news and journalism.

Please note also how every news outlet is so proud to inform us that the prime minister “tweeted” his condolences.

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In other news, most political journalists appear to busy tracking party-hoppers and offering advice to the Opposition parties on how to conduct themselves. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lack of interaction with the national media gets plaudits from his many admirers in the media. For instance, Bhupendra Chaubey of News18 somehow admires Modi’s system of “talking directly to the people”, as he put out in a series of tweets. By this he means, presumably, election rallies and speeches all over the place. No accountability in any of those, but who cares, eh?

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And, even as ABP News plays its own little game of sucking up to the powers-that-be, The Telegraph walks down its own road of taking on Modi. Many within and without the profession feel that the Telegraph is going too far but is it? At least it shows more courage in its front pages than most newspapers manage to do in their edits which they themselves claim no one reads.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

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