By Abhay Shivnani Last week, Delhi saw its politicians getting their hands dirty, quite literally. Teeming garbage bins spilt over on to the streets of the national capital, as the sanitation workers were on strike fornon-payment of their salaries for months on end. Amidst the stink, all three major parties sniffed a political opportunity and jumped into the fray to win the favour of Delhiites. While the resurgent Rahul Gandhi cashed in on the crisis by joining the strike of the MCD workers, the other two parties took a more hands-on approach by getting down to business with party cadres and leaders attempting to clear the mess. Obviously, neither AAP nor BJP’s photo-op cleaning was going to help clear the 15,000 tonnes of Delhi’s garbage. Bengaluru too has seen a colossal garbage crisis in 2012. When a laid-back and callous BBMP had allowed the Mandur and Mavallipura landfills become unscientific dump-yards that made life a living hell for the residents around, the villagers struck back by not allowing the garbage trucks to pass by. The result was thousands of tonnes of garbage strewn around the once ‘Garden City’. The stark difference between the Delhi and the Bengaluru episodes is the active participation of citizen groups in solving the city’s problems. Even in the more recent incident of the Varthur lake frothing, it was a citizens group - Whitefield Rising (WR) - that was at the forefront of not just highlighting the issue but also formulating solutions for it. WR had contacted the media with appalling pictures of the polluted froth. After a barrage of news channels played visuals of snow-like froth spilling over on loop, the authorities were woken up from their lull. WR continues to liaison with them to formulate short and long term solutions. Another lake that has been snatched from the jaws of death by a citizens group is Puttenahalli Lake. In 2009, Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT), a group of residents from surrounding apartments started the process of rejuvenating the Puttenahalli Lake which was on the verge of extinction. After signing an MoU with BBMP, over the next 3 years PNLIT managed to bring the lake back to life. In 2013, Koramangala resident welfare associations drew attention to a possible irregularity and breach of procedure in the grant of a No Objection Certificate to private buildings by HAL in Bengaluru. The citizens brought to HAL officials' notice the alleged misrepresentation of facts by the private builder but still received no response from the authorities. It was the then defence minister who ordered a probe after it was brought to his notice by alert citizens. A more prominent citizens group in Bengaluru is Bengaluru Political Action Committee (BPAC) with eminent citizens like Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Mohandas Pai heading the group. When the government of Karnataka had thoughtlessly earmarked a heritage building to turn into a legislator’s club, BPAC led the protest and successfully forced the government to abandon their plans. Are thriving citizens groups a compliment to the city’s democratic set-up or a mirror to poor administration and governance? In case of Bengaluru, both may be true. Bengaluru’s administration had not been prepared for rapid expansion. From around 66 lakhs in 2001, Bengaluru’s population has grown to a almost a whopping one crore by 2015, surging to almost double in less than 15 years. The torrent of people who left the city disproportionately developed. Areas like Whitefield and Electronic City which have an enormous presence of IT and IT-based companies seem to be suffering more from civic problems than older neighbourhoods like Malleshwaram and Basavanagudi. With the unforeseen incursion of people into localities like Marathahalli and Varthur, which were villages not too long ago, the roads and sanitation pipes could not withstand the burgeoning stress. After years of tug-of-war with officials, citizens seem to have realised that there is only that much that can be expected from the government. If they want more, then they will have to be astir. Whitefield alone generates about Rs. 26,000 crores of revenue and many of its current denizens who are widely travelled, have organized themselves into groups and are emulating the concept of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and citizens groups quite successfully in Bengaluru. While these groups still have to work with government machinery to get things moving, they have seamlessly fit into the vacuum in governance. They protest against the government when they have to and work in tandem when required. And now they have become such an important part of Bengaluru’s ethos that ahead of the BBMP polls, political parties are forced to take them seriously and engage with them. These groups are no longer just weekend protestors but a force to reckon with.