For this engineer value-based activism is mission

For this engineer value-based  activism is mission

He quit his job as an engineer to join the world of activism and after a decade, he has emerged as one of the best, reputable and reliable activists in Mumbai.

Whether it is exposing the Adarsh Housing Society scam or working with slum-dwellers of India’s commercial capital, including in Dharavi, one of the biggest slum localities of the world, he has been in the forefront. He has launched a sort of mission against land-grabbers.

Meet 36-year-old Simpreet Singh, who hails from Ludhiana in Punjab and made Mumbai his home. His parents were teachers in Punjab. He now stays in Mumbai’s Sion-Koliwada area with his family and helps out an artiste’s collective, with research, for earning money. For him, the day starts a bit late and nights are also late.

As of now, he is part of the small committee that comprises the Jan Jagriti Sangharsh Samiti (JJSS). The Right to Information Act (RTI) is the base of several of his campaigns-- a thing or two that a lot of activists can learn from him. Besides, wherever possible, he has been moving the office of Lokayukta.

“It is not by accident or suddenly that I became an activist. It was a conscious decision,” Singh told Deccan Herald. “I am working in several areas, whether it is working for the right of slum dwellers or fighting against corruption or exposing scams,” the engineer by training said.

Once he wanted to do big and change the system from within the system. But now he is almost a full-time activist and aspires to change the system. And to an extent, there has been some successes for this youth, who says: “I would carry this forward.”

The mechanical engineer worked for nearly two-and-a-half years as a floor manager in Punjab. “I saw workers there being exploited. I was part and parcel of the exploited system and hence got attracted towards trade unions,” he said. He left the job and was completely involved in trade union activity for a year. In 2003, he came to Mumbai and joined Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and opted for Masters in Social Work.

He has been a member of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, a social movement of slum dwellers which has been at the forefront of the struggle in the city against the neo-liberal transformation of the city, and came in contact with activists like Medha Patkar, the founder of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM).

“During the last decade, a large number of urban poor residents have been evicted from their homes and places of livelihood in the name of ‘development’ and transformation of the city of Mumbai. They have been relocated to sites where their life has further deteriorated. Thus, the urban poor are being made to pay the cost of development of the city,” he said.

“In Mumbai, I joined the voluntary action and started working with people of Dharavi, particularly on the issue of their rights and also on communal harmony,” he said. In 2004, he attended the World Social Forum (WSF) in Mumbai the Mumbai Resistance (MR).

 Over 60,000 people from all over India, South Asia, and around the world descended on this metropolis to participate in two events: WSF and MR 2004--against imperialist globalisation and war. These two conferences were held concurrently at the Goregaon suburbs of Mumbai.

He was part of the activist group that protested against the demolitions of slums in 2005. In fact, the Mumbai to Shanghai transformation was the brainchild of the then Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh. Adarsh scam was one of the big cases that he exposed along with others. “It was a big case, it shows the aspects of politicians, bureaucrats, officers of armed forces and influential people colluding. It showed how rules were bent,” he said.

Because of his efforts, the investigations scam under the scrutiny of the Bombay High Court. In 2010, the then Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had to resign in the wake of the Adarsh scam.

The Adarsh tower at Colaba in Mumbai was meant for Kargil war widows, but usurped by bureaucrats, politicians and defence personnel who had no role to play in Kargil. “I have also raised the issue of Atria Mall and also of Hiranandani Constructions,” he said.

He recalled that his first RTI application was in 2005 and he sought details of the clearances given for the Atria Mall. To his shock, he learnt from the replies that the mall was being constructed on land reserved for a municipal school. He went on to  file multiple RTIs and a public interest litigation but still the mall was constructed.

Land grabbing is a big issue in Mumbai. “Parcels of lands are going away to builders,” he said.  Simpreet is currently in the forefront of issues vis-a-vis rationing and points out how people protesting have come out with a slogan-- “Modi Sarkaar, tera kaisa khel, sasti daru, mehanga tel.” As far as regrets, he said: “Not really...but when he exposes something, things move fast...court orders probe, investigating agencies act, commissions and committees are formed, but ultimately it slows down in a couple of years.”

There has been instances when after protests he has been picked up. “False cases were filed against me and once I was booked for attempt to murder,” he laments.

For Simpreet, that experience taught several lessons on how to use the RTI law and he did it effectively. In 2007, he was the lead RTI applicant in  the Adarsh housing society scam.

In 2011, because of his relentless work, he was awarded with the National RTI Council Award instituted by the Aam Aadmi Party founder and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Public Cause Research Foundation. “Now I am working in slums of Mankhurd, Shivajinagar, Annabhau Sathe Nagar and so on, particulary those which are in the periphery of Mumbai,” said Singh.

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