Mumbai: 28-year-old lawyer's online forum helps public tweet to reclaim the city

Jul 01, 2018, 15:31 IST | Jane Borges

How a 28-year-old lawyer's online forum is ensuring that potholes and debris are not permanent features of the city

Mumbai: 28-year-old lawyer's online forum helps public tweet to reclaim the city
Location: Mehboob Studios, Bandra Complaint: Pothole Filed: June 25 Solved: Within three hours. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

It's 2 pm, when 28-year-old advocate Trivankumar Karnani, who has been negotiating the hallways and courtrooms of the magistrate court in Bandra for the last three hours, finally manages to catch his breath. The 45-minute lunch break in court means that Karnani, a practising criminal defence lawyer, now has time to attend to the incessant tweets and messages on his phone. In terms of volume, there is a tome that is awaiting him. On most days, he chooses to settle down in the courthouse canteen or his car, and make meticulous notes in his diary. The notes include listing complaints that he has sifted through on the Mumbai North Central District Forum (MNCDF) - a Twitter page that he created back in 2015.

Despite a meagre following - the @MNCDFbombay page has 2,390+ followers - the forum, which serves as a platform for free redressal of public grievances, has become a beacon of hope for residents of Mumbai North Central, comprising Bandra, Khar, Vile Parle, Kurla, Kalina and Chandivli, as well as the rest of Mumbai. From open manholes, illegal parking, debris and garbage dumping to potholes, tree-trimming and sometimes, even animal rescue, Karnani's MNCDF has intervened in over 1,000 complaints over the last three years.

The fact that celebrities like actor/filmmaker Pooja Bhatt and cricketer Vinod Kambli and politicos like MLA Ashish Shelar - all active participants on the forum - have taken a shine to it, making it their go-to page for addressing issues concerning the city, only goes to show that Karnani's platform not just has takers, but also people who genuinely believe that a solution awaits them here.

Location: 14th Road, Khar West Complaint: Tree debris Filed: June 29 Solved: Within two hours
Location: 14th Road, Khar West Complaint: Tree debris Filed: June 29 Solved: Within two hours

Have a problem? Tweet
On a daily basis, Karnani logs on to his Twitter page thrice - once in the morning before he leaves for work, then at lunch break, and later at 5 pm, after courts call it a day.

Each time, Karnani, a resident of Bandra West, prepares a list of two to three complaints - he encourages Twitter complainants to share a photograph of the spot, the location and their full name on his page, so that he can follow up. Once the list is ready, he identifies the municipal ward and begins making calls.

When we catch him at his residence on a weekday afternoon, Karnani is busy on the phone with a woman officer of the H West ward. He has her on speaker, and while she keeps the conversation formal, one can easily gauge that she is dealing with a familiar caller. "My calls to her are now routine," he informs us. As he rattles away the complaints - debris on 14th Road and a broken bathtub dumped on the pavement of 21st Road in Khar among others, the officer takes note before pro-actively issuing him his complaint numbers. She also gives Karnani a phone number to follow up on the issue. Barely 20 hours later, the job has been done - before and after pictures on the MNCDF Twitter feed is proof.

Location: MCA, BKC Complaint: Open manhole Filed: June 20 Solved: Within 24 hours
Location: MCA, BKC Complaint: Open manhole Filed: June 20 Solved: Within 24 hours

Recently, the forum garnered a lot of attention when Kambli, a resident of Bandra, tweeted about a pothole near Mehboob Studios in Bandra West. "I was dropping my kids to school, when one of the tyres of my car slipped into a pothole. The impact literally tore my car tyre apart. It could have been a serious accident," says Kambli. He immediately tweeted photos of the pothole on the forum. Sharad Ughade, assistant municipal commissioner of H West ward, was quick to take action, says Karnani. The potholes were filled in less than three hours. Kambli adds, "The advantage of a forum like this one is that Trivan [Karnani] is passionate about getting the job done. He interacts with the authorities concerned, and then follows up. I am currently getting his help to install speed-breakers near the Bandra Reclamation stretch. Motorists coming from the sea link continue to drive negligently, posing a risk to pedestrians."

Next on the Agenda: Alka Kerkar, corporator of H West Ward, has assured to clean the debris at St Elias playground on Ambedkar Road within a week, after a resident requested the forum to intervene
Next on the Agenda: Alka Kerkar, corporator of H West Ward, has assured to clean the debris at St Elias playground on Ambedkar Road within a week, after a resident requested the forum to intervene

Birth of the forum
Karnani was a law student at Rizvi Law College in Bandra, when he launched the forum right after the 2014 general elections. At the time, he had around 10 volunteers, in their late teens and early 20s, who helped him build the platform. "We were all like-minded citizens, stirred by a common cause," he says.

"As a Bandra resident, I was aware of the problems people in my area faced, and how they were not being addressed correctly. Most times, when residents approached authorities, it ended up in friction. And, because they lacked knowledge of the law, they were easily taken for a ride. There was a need for a forum that would resolve citizens' issues," explains Karnani about why he started the forum. Over the next few years, Karnani and his team actively followed up on complaints and also played a crucial role in the 2017 BMC polls when, in the run-up, they provided voters with specifics of work done by local corporators.

Advocate Trivankumar Karnani, 28, who handles the Mumbai North Central District Forum (MNCDF) account on Twitter, addresses around five complaints daily. Pic/Ashish Raje
Advocate Trivankumar Karnani, 28, who handles the Mumbai North Central District Forum (MNCDF) account on Twitter, addresses around five complaints daily. Pic/Ashish Raje

Today, Karnani responds to complaints from across the city. "As long as I am not expected to be physically present anywhere, I can take on complaints coming from anywhere," he says.

The forum faced a massive hurdle in 2016, when Karnani published a Bombay High Court ruling, which ordered razing of illegal tenements on SV Road, Khar. Soon after, he was implicated by a local activist, who filed a defamation suit against him. "A developer had requested our intervention. We only put up the HC order on our Twitter page.

Instead, we got pulled up by the activist, who filed an non-cognisable complaint against us for defaming her," says Karnani, refusing to divulge details of the sub-judice case.

Vinod Kambli
Vinod Kambli

What followed was an anxious period where he was called in for questioning by the cyber cell on several occasions. Many of his young volunteers also backed out over this case. "I faced the interrogation alone as I was administering the account,"
says Karnani.

He continues to visit court to fight what he describes as "malicious prosecution". "But I have only protected the integrity of the judiciary. I have nothing to fear," he says.

Not just civic issues
It's not just civic issues, Karnani has also helped those tweeting requests for free legal advice. In 2016, Harsha Vishnu Kale, a 22-year-old content writer, approached Karnani when she was asked to vacate her government quarters, right after her father, who was an employee with the Institute for the Hearing Handicapped for 23 years, passed away. "My mom had died earlier, and I had two younger siblings in their teens and a grandmother to look after. We were expected to vacate within a month, but I had exhausted all my savings, and it was impossible to find a home at such short notice," recalls Kale.

After she approached Karnani, he immediately pointed out that as per law, she had the right to stay in the quarters for another two years. "He also wrote to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to consider our case," says Kale, adding, "His intervention helped give us enough time to look for alternative accommodation" What has worked for MNCDF is that elected representatives - like MLAs and corporators - have also been picking up complaints pertaining to their ward from its Twitter page, and following it up. While Ughade was unavailable for comment, MLA Ashish Shelar, who represents the Bandra West constituency, was vocal in his support. "Today's language of communication is digital. When people who are active on this forum, post their complaints, it is our duty as government representatives to ensure swift redressal. The great thing is that we get immediate feedback about our work. It's an interactive space," says Shelar.

Karnani has also found strong support in actor Pooja Bhatt. She has been regularly retweeting complaints posted on the forum, and also following up with authorities, and hopes to create an active citizen group that works as the eyes and ears of the authorities. "We need to work as a team with the BMC, and at the same time, when they err, we have to be their mirror and let them know where they are faltering. There is a general sense of apathy towards our neighbourhoods, and it's time we became more responsible," says Bhatt. "What Trivan [Karnani] is trying to do, is probably a drop in the ocean, but at least, I feel we aren't alone anymore. One tweet and we know someone is listening."

How to file a complaint
* Call the ward concerned (For details: dm.mcgm.gov.in)
* Ask them to connect you to the complaint department
* Once connected, share the issue and exact location
* The officer will issue a complaint number
* Get the number of the department that will address your complaint
* Keep following-up with the department concerned, using your complaint number

Other city forums to follow on Twitter
@MulundMumbai
@Lokhandwala_Bom
@CommunityBandra

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