Saturday, May 21, 2016

Q&A with the government

In the afternoon, Environmental Support Group (ESG) representatives helped prepare us for a visit to the local government offices.
In the afternoon, Environmental Support Group (ESG) representatives helped prepare us for a visit to the local government offices. We outlined our questions, such as, "Is there a long-term plan to clean the lakes? What is the government's effort in supporting sustainable energy or in making healthcare accessible and affordable? Why is solid waste management still an issue?" And of course the most important question: "How can we ensure I have enough water for a bath each day?"

ESG representatives, Leo and Bhargavi, warned us that visiting the government offices might involve some suffering. India's culture is not transactional to the extent that it is in the United States. In America, we may expect that when we perform function A, outcome B results. But in India, interactions don't necessarily work that way. Rather, interactions are much more dependent on relationships. Leo and Bhargavi role-played a potential interaction between one of the students and a government official, with Leo (as the official) aggressively questioning Bhargavi and then telling her to go talk to someone else. Leo and Bhargavi explained that part of the purpose of the visit to the government is to experience what it is like to be a citizen trying to get answers and address problems— a process ESG faces regularly.

We then divided into groups focused on each issue (water, pollution, housing, transport, energy, and health) in order to visit the appropriate government branch. At first, my group's visit to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) looked much like the role-play; the officer pulled me aside and asked me, "Why are you here?". As I was showing him my ID card, he took a phone call and disappeared for awhile. But when he came back, he told me we could meet with the scientific officer. We were surprised by the helpfulness of this officer. He answered our questions and was open about the shortfalls of the government. He provided information regarding standards of drinking water, industry bio-assay, effluent quality, and noise levels. I am not sure how he could find all this information among the 20+ piles of 3-ring binders stacked on his desk, but he seemed very knowledgeable about the status and impact of air pollution on Bangalore. All in all, it was a good experience, and it definitely opened our eyes to the complex nature of all these issues.

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