Q How did the journey start as one of the most popular twitter handles that takes up public issues, especially regarding roads and footpaths?
My journey as Roads of Mumbai (ROM) on twitter began in January 2016, with the sole purpose of raising awareness about roads and traffic via social media. I thought this could be a collective platform where civic issues can be discussed and debated. It started when I went to Sri Lanka for a family vacation. My assumption then was that they also will be like us in terms of violating roads traffic, bad civic sense, etc. To my surprise, in Sri Lanka people are very disciplined when it comes to traffic and civic issues. I realised they take law and their own lives very seriously. In Colombo, we unknowingly violated a zebra crossing. On learning that we were non-natives, the traffic policeman asked us to go back to where we started and follow the rules or else he would fine us. We requested him to let us off this time, but he politely explained that he cannot allow this, as he would be going against his duty. Back home in Mumbai, it is like sab signal todte hain, hum kar lenge toh kya hoga (everyone violates traffic rules, jumps signals, it won’t make any difference if we do it, too). I would confess that I too had an attitude like this. So I decided to change myself first.
Q Any particular reason that you only use your twitter handle name and not your personal details.
A lot of people want to know who I am. However, taking up issues such as encroachments on footpaths, illegal hawkers, etc is a very serious matter. The lawyers I consult have also advised me against revealing my identity.
Q Have you been trolled or threatened?
Yes, many times; especially after I took up issues of fancy and illegal number plates of vehicles. We had pointed out how many people continue to have number plates in Devanagari. I was trolled, called out names and people even alleged that I am anti-Maharashtrian. There was a time when I wanted to take a break for a day or two from twitter due to these trolls and threats, but not permanently.
Q. What is the most common problem raised by Twitterati about Mumbai?
Bad roads tops the list; followed by absence of proper footpaths, encroachments blocking space on footpaths, parked vehicles on pavements. Sadly, the concept of decent footpaths seems to be missing from the BMC’s book.
Q. What’s your success rate?
I don’t have any official figures in hand to prove the success rate. However, since the handle started, I have witnessed citizens becoming more and more vocal about their issues. Since the BMC, the traffic police, the Mumbai police and other authorities have active twitter accounts, people are hopeful that their issues will be heard and authorities will act. But it seems these authorities are selective in taking action. For example, the BMC seems to be prompt in taking action against illegal hoardings etc, but when it comes to removal of encroachments from footpaths, it’s slow.
Q. What about the good work the BMC and traffic police do?
It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I feel they can do much better. The traffic police seem to be in urgent need of manpower in a city like Mumbai. There is a serious issue of wrong side driving but there is no serious action or initiatives in the form of campaigns. In terms of penalties, the fines are high. But it is not effective, as hardly any action is seen. Similarly, the BMC needs to be proactive.
Q Your tweets on pavements get a lot of traction. Yet Mumbai doesn’t have decent walking infrastructure?
It ends at people sharing their experiences. The ‘chalta hai’ attitude is deep-set. When everyone is a pedestrian, then why are we not coming out collectively and fighting for it. But we choose to stay silent or wait for someone else to raise voice on our behalf.
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