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How an activist is born
During my four decades of hectic working life, I had never come across the word 'Activist' in the media. But retirement taught me a few lessons. We had chosen to settle in Powai. At that time, it was a distant developing suburb, with Powai Lake and its surrounding hills acting as a serene backdrop. Its urbanisation was a work in progress. And construction was all around us.

Gradually, we started going for our morning walks. During one such walk we heard a big bang and next day we were told that a flying boulder had smashed the windscreen of a car parked in the next building. A few days later a child playing tennis was hurt by a stone. Soon, hearing blasts became a regular affair and a danger to life and limb.

Too close for comfort! We friends, who were strangers to each other till recently, were suddenly bound by a common cause. None of us were familiar with the laws of the land. Soon this picture emerged:

The hills around the Powai Lake served as the catchment area for this rain-fed water body. It was one of the ten lakes, which came under 'National lake conservation plan', overseen by a Parliamentary Commission. Nevertheless the lake was being abused. All the hills around us were NDZs (No Development Zones).

Apart from supplying rain water for the lake, one of the hills was a Defence site. Atop this hill was surface-to-air missile launching pad, for aerial protection of the domestic/international airport and for an Air Force base in Kolshet. The hill closest to us was being illegally blasted and quarried. It was a matter of blasting away the catchment area and endangering national security. Also a threat to our life!

I wrote a personal letter to the developer, whom I knew well. Told him that he should do something to protect us and get the quarrying and blasting stopped. It was also not good for the reputation of his project. We were shocked, when my wife got a threatening call from a contractor. 'Ask Saksena to behave, nahin to hum dekh lenge'!

We managed to get the Fax No. of the commander of the Air Force base, and informed him about the blasting of the SAM launching site. Also we submitted a signature campaign to the guardian minister of suburbs. This resulted in a notice for a meeting with the District Collector. The notice of the meeting was so slyly delivered late in the evening, to ensure that only the contractor could make it and not us. But we resolved to hurry to the collector's office, along with a reporter.

As the meeting started, a despatch rider from Air Force arrived and handed over a letter to the collector. Our point came through strongly. The letter said that in interest of national security, the work should stop immediately and permanently.

Next day, the mainline papers splashed news with a telling photo of the blasted quarry. We had won our first battle. That's when the media started branding me as an 'activist'. Times of India did a piece, 'Neighbourhood Hero'. As infringements of law, harming the national lake and quality and safety of life continued, so did our activities and threats. A year later another 'Hero Revisited' piece appeared in Times of India.

I had thought that in retirement I would lead a peaceful life reading, listening to music and so on. But that was not to be, as long as developers and contractors continue to have no regards for the laws of the land and officialdom remains their willing partner.

While at 83 I no longer barge into Collector's office or confront ministers, I do help others to file Right To Information applications. Citizens must be willing to battle on. The public should not be taken for granted!

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