In Chennai, the spring of volunteer ism is in full bloom. This Monday the Harrington Roads Resident Association, located at Chetpet , formally started the drive to segregate waste at source. The core members of the group have been sending e mails, posters, facebook updates and posts on whatsapp to spread awareness about waste segregation. Formed in 2002 the Association does not have any formal structure and all the residents of the Harrington road area are automatically included. The Association firmly adheres to the volunteer model. Each member voluntarily decides on the issues in the neighbourhood she wants to get engaged with. “On our present drive, a clearer picture will only emerge by the next week. At present, it’s hard to say what our primary challenges are going to be,” one core member of the group said.
Volunteer ism is the mantra for Chennai Adoption Drive too, an organisation working to increase the adoption of Indian stray puppies. Last Sunday the group organised its 19th adoption event at Chetpet and succeeded in finding homes for 12 stray dogs.Its founder Murali Anand speaks about the challenges of the volunteer model, “ I have my own advertising agency, other friends work in IT, some other in auto mobile, nobody is connected by work but only through the sense of commitment.” Commenting on the large turn out at the adoption drive he says, “ I’ve never seen so many people, I won’t meet them next week, only for this drive I call them 3-4 days before to confirm their presence. Everyone has his own personal life. We are dedicating ourselves to one Sunday each month, it’s not an easy thing. Life now is mechanical. Only on Sundays we get to rest. I don’t want to spoil every Sunday for them.” He says. On the lack of such organisations in other big cities, one of the group’s member Sidharatha C said, “People in Chennai are more friendly and tolerant towards others who speak different languages and come from different parts of the country. I have been to Karnataka, you can’t get your way if you don’t know the local language”
SWARAN (Save Water and Recharge Aquifers Network ) is a new entrant to the ever increasing numbers of citizen organisations. SWARAN was started to raise awareness with regard to fresh water and rain water conservation principles within local communities and neighbourhoods. Mr Ramshankar, one the core committee members says, “The larger issue that SWARAN will attempt to address is near total lack of participation and indifference by ordinary residents to civic infrastructure projects in their locality.” The group took shape to provide a constructive outlet to the angst people often feel on account of irrational civic works happening in their neighbourhoods. Without access to officials such people fail to influence the policy making which is essential for grass root democracy. Mr Ramshankar faults the government for its haphazard approach towards urban planning. “Why are they constructing hugely wasteful and destructive storm water drains which is ineffective, stagnates water or at best drains water away into a polluted waterway and ultimately into the Sea?” He speaks passionately about one of the group’s core priority areas, rain water harvesting. “We have met the Mayor and petitioned him to do rain water harvesting on the roads like they have done in Besant Nagar, Kalakshetra colony, etc. due to pressure from enlightened residents of those areas” he said. On the specific elements the dynamics of the city adds to such citizens’ endeavours, he says, “I think there are quite a few learned and civic conscious people in this city who will readily come together (which I would like to refer to as “like minded” people), provided someone takes the initiative, does the ground work and builds a platform for individuals to participate. I think the city of Chennai has had a glorious past and rich history of 350 Years and at least some of the long term denizens of this city have fond nostalgic memories of City’s grandeur, beauty and its beaches and environs. There is obviously a burning desire to preserve it and do whatever one can to sustain it and make it better.”