Monday, October 17, 2011

here we are

The poll rhetoric is over. the debate was on. the vision of the wannabe mayors is to create e-mail ids and providing helplines. in essence, they are keen on serving the public. but there is little to suggest what the city really wants to move forward to take its rightful place along the great cities of the world. it is obvious that the Chennai Corporation, even if it is Greater Chennai, will not be able to accomplish everything the city needs on its own. the state must have the vision to take the city truly a place to live and cherish. the geography of the city has it in that it has the ability to expand and assimilate to be the true cornerstone of rapid urbanisation that has swept the state in the last two decades.

This is a city full of promise yet has fallen short on expectations repeatedly. There is no place to begin describing the life of a city than garbage that touches the life of every dwelling. Despite a Supreme Court directive to implement solid waste management some five years ago, the city, like most other cities in the nation, is still clueless even to the idea. Majority of the city is still to have two dust bins for seggregating waste - the first step towards effective waste disposal system. the whole process is mired in bureacratic and legal tangles. then the dump yards. even if city's two shame pits at Perungudi and Kodungaiyur have been brimming over and above for years, the corporation is yet to even think of decentralising garbage disposal. identification of one garbage disposal site, without affecting the locals in anyway, along every road that goes out of the city and carrying the city's muck to create wealth (which is possible on a smaller scale) is not a distant possibility.

Plastic is another toxin plaguing us. Ten years ago, the same ruling government was about to pass an order banning the plastics in the city which was scrapped an evening before. This time around also, the intent is there and one has to wait for the level of enforcement. The city itself, on its own, could curb the use of plastics by taking that old-world cloth bag or wire-baskets with them but unfortunately, the city's elite prefer paying for plastic bags in malls and shops. And there are cement manufacturers waiting for the corporation to transport the plastic to their factories to burn them without a trace of toxins reaching the atmosphere.

The state's top bureacrat, before he became that, once told me that unless the city's waterways are cleaned up, the city will never be able to make it as a great city. The government he works for is not talking about the previous government's efforts to clean up and restore the Cooum river, matchless in its shame. Of course, it has been the pet project right from the first time the five time chief minister M. Karunanidhi assumed office first time. The vision has always been there. May be, there was intent too. It still is a pipe-dream. On the other hand, Adyar offers opportunities for the city some scope but here the city lacks vision. Remember the crores spent on National River Conservation project? The city's Buckingham canal looks beyond redemption but the canal along the OMR has a lure that is yet to be tapped. Urbanisation on that IT stretch could also contaminate the canal clean as of now. Are we aware?

There has been debate on metro rail and mono rail but no one is saying openly that metro is a necessity to take people in suburbs like Ambattur, Avadi and Sriperumbudur as well as vast stretches of North Madras where the public mostly use public transport. The circular corridor in the first phase of metro is unlikely to make much of a difference within the city whereas monorail, by its very design, could crisscross and decongest the heart of the city. Another circular road corridor, with BRTS as an inherent part, is still in its foetus. No one knows how long or how many governments it would take to deliver. Sample this, MRTS stations stand as the ugly testimony of the vision of the southern railways and failure of the state to effectively integrate urban transport system for which a bill was passed a few years ago.

While the world's city's breathe green, our own city has gone earth. Rapid urbanisation and rise of apartments and multistories, in essence, jungles of concrete and glass, could turn out to be our nemesis in the long run. A far sighted move brought Cauvery water to the city some years ago, but the thirst is still there and growing. Again rain water harvesting, at the micro-level, has proved to be effective in charging the ground water table. The triumph, though, will be in painting the city green, again, and as fast as possible.

A thousand stories are waiting to be written about the inadequate infrastructure in suburbs to be integrated into the city limits. Mogappair is the classic example of how a locality thrives on its own in a big city despite no help from the government, literally, from the government. It is time the chief minister drove through this Anna Nagar neighbourhood, where the state's many top bureacrats have houses.

Yes, housing is an issue concering everyone. It is time they made the right to shelter a fundamental right. The IT sector, and with it, the rise of a modern, growing India, meant a majority of the middle class could only dream of owning a house and another majority ending up paying most of their salary to the banks for owning the house. The less said about lower middle class and poor. Hear this from a woman who lives in a rented house by the Buckingham Canal behind the Secretariat. "Every year, the owner increases the rent by a thousand. Now, I am paying four thousand. All my earnings are spent on rent." Hers is the voice of millions. Previous governments have more or less focussed more on allotting its housing board flats and plots to coterie than try and genuinly address the housing of the majority. Private housing? Never mind, it is under the control of market forces.

There are a few places where the free market has no role _ public offices where corruption rules. The rulers, alternatively ousted, tend to think a lot into the reasons for the defeat. Corruption at the basic level - the hospital, ration shop, offices of RTO, tahsildar and the like - is a major cause for anti-incumbency wave to spread fast. The anger of a common man left to pay everywhere he / she goes, that is the failure of basic governance, is still a cause for concern.

Sample the quality of Chennai city schools in a State which is considered to be the IT industry's HR capital. Why has the government failed to make these schools sought after? Is anyone thinking of neighbourhood schools or the RTE provision to be inclusive and admit 25 per cent of poor in every school?

Pollution is an issue. When was the last time any of us went and checked at the emission centres which are next to non-existent. What is omnipresent is inflation? Well, that is something to be tackled by the Centre and the State, forget the City, has no role in it. And there are a whole lot of other issues like saving Pallikaranai marsh or Nanmangalam forests or a flyover in Vadapalani junction or closing down a few factories in Manali or building houses for fishermen or proper rehabilitation of displaced slum dwellers or shifting of coal handling to Ennore port so on and on.

The rhetoric never stops. The debate rages on. The city has to vote. And it has.

Stories From The Soul Town

There lies a magical land. Surrounded by the green ghats to the west, gurgling great rivers on the east, the valley with the very blue sky. A temple town of the tamils. Sitting on the dancing rock on the highland overlooking the valley, the writer procreates the lives of the people of this lesser known south west. Full of strange yet simple souls.