July 28, 2012

Note to our Mayor

Dear Mayor,

The daily newspapers keep telling us that the installation of those tall, blue metal sheets at street corners to enclose garbage bins is your pet project.

At first look I thought a smart set of scheming hustlers had brazenly taken over street spaces.

Later, when people began to tell me that lazy autorickshaw drivers who must have a tipple at day's end found these sheds a convenient space than those smelly TASMAC bars, I wondered how Dr. Ramadoss, the PMK leader who is hell bent on closing all wine shops would react to this development.

Imagine garbage dumps becoming drinking places!

This bunching of garbage bins may be a great idea to try out but frankly, is it not yet another idea which takes away pavement space from our citizens.

Power junction boxes, garbage bins, traffic signal boxes, private cable line boxes, Social Welfare Board snacks stalls . . all of them are set up on our pavements. Where is the space for our people?

It is another thing that Chennai Corporation takes pride in winning the Guinness Record for creating the smallest pavements in the world. In some places, they are less than 10 inches in width.

This past week, I read about another grand project on the anvil. Beautification of Marina Beach.

You and your team must have been itching to launch some grand projects. That is but natural for city Mayors. Others like to lay foundation stones.

I am not sure what drives people to keep beautifying our city. More so the Marina.

If you chat with people who love the outdoors, they will probably tell you that all that a space like our Marina needs is clean sands and clean waters. That's all.

But there are others who want to install statues. Some want to have granits pedestals for the statues. Some want a lawn around the statues. Some want granite to replace the lawns. And some who wish there were miniature dancing lights and fountains around the granite space on the Marina.

And there are those who want granite pathways that reach the water front, exclusive spaces for children to play, shopping plazas and dining nooks. All on the Marina.

Beautification is an engaging idea.

But I am not so sure that this is what people who love the Marina and the Elliots Beach want.

Meanwhile, our councillors seem to have taken a hint from your pet projects. They propose cemented walkways, jogging tracks and landscaped lawns on the beachside in their Wards.

All in the name of beautification.

July 22, 2012

Cosmopolitan Chennai!

An interesting production is on the cards at AMM Matric School in Kotturpuram.
Well known dancer Nirupama Nithyanandan who grew up and learnt classical dance in our city, then moved to France to learn and perform and is now an international artiste is leading this project at the school.
V. R. Devika of Aseema Trust broached the idea after she watched Nirupama lead a project while working with senior school students in France.
The duo are trying to get the teenagers at AMM express themselves on the theme of 'Cosmopolitan Chennai'.
Where are you from and what brought you to this city? What are the influences that the city has had on you and what have you assimilated and what have you bypassed ? Who are your friends and neighbours and how do you relate to them?
The process and the final presentation in mid-August is bound to be interesting and educative.
Since we have also set the ball rolling for the 2012 edition of 'Madras Week' celebrations which celebrate the founding of the city and all that it stands for, we are hoping that Nirupama's work at AMM can be staged at a few venues later in August.
At one level, Madras Day / Week ( www.themadrasday.in) is about events. At another level it may also set the tone for something more substantial.
Nirupama's effort is in that direction.
There are others too.
Writings on the city have begun to get published. The city has been the stage for a few books of fiction and non-fiction. A book titled 'Chennaivasi' is just being launched. Bishwanath Ghosh's 'Tamarind City' got published some months ago.
A few music bands have over the years composed songs with threads based on the city, its life and its idiosyncracies. A compilation of these songs and some fresh ones on a CD sponsored by a city-based business would make a nice gift or a memento.
Elsewhere, a script is being readied for a short film on an Anglo-Indian family of Madras.
There is also an increasing volume of photographs on this city. They remain on Flickr or in Seagate hard drives. Perhaps, it is time to collate them for coffee table books or direct them to online data banks.
Perhaps this is the time for you and your group to do your bit for the city.

July 14, 2012

Jayalalithaa pulls up councillors: works?

You can expect chief minister J. Jayalalithaa to surprise, shock and shake you up.

So when she invited the city councillors of the AIADMK party to a public hall recently, they were surprised and a tad unsettled. But they certainly did not expect what took place much later.

The wait for her arrival at the hall only heightened their curiosity and uneasiness. And when Jayalalithaa took the lead at the mike, she had some very harsh things to say.

She did not shy from saying she had learnt that some councillors were keener to make moolah than work in their Wards, that some were brazen with the people they represented and that some just did not perform the role they were elected to do.

Finally, she told them that she would not stop from dissolving the Council of Chennai Corporation if things really went too far.

For a party leader and a chief minister to have taken time off to do some plain talking with the men and women of her party who are elected at the grassroots, this was timely and appropriate.

Evidently, the lady did not like what she was hearing from different quarters of the city.

So has Jayalalithaa's plain speaking shaken up city councillors who hail from the AIADMK?

A bit, going from my experience.

All of them do respond to phone or personal calls made by residents of the Ward they represent. It is another matter that the calls are answered by the husbands of women councillors and invariably, they are the ones who will meet you at your street.

All of them are willing to lend a ear to people.

Almost all of them are making an effort to network with officials of state agencies and take up worrying local issues.

So can we expect better governance in our neighbourhoods?

I am not optimistic.

You cannot expect much from reps who do not know much about grassroot and metro-driven issues.

You can expect a better performance if our councillors are provided training and refresher courses from time to time but little has been done on this front.

You cannot expect much from reps who are guided by fellow politicians and do not look at the bigger picture.

Also, many of the projects floated by the Corporation are not 'local specific'.

Finally, save for some Wards, citizens rarely engage with their reps.

July 07, 2012

Are these drains?

If there is one scam that stares in my face today it is to do with what must be Chennai Corporation's grand project of providing us all with brand new SWDs, or simply put, Storm Water Drains.
It is a scam that is a big rip-off, a waste of our monies paid as tax of all kinds, a downright shoddy job and a joke on the people of this city.
Since early last year, I have been witness to this scam in many streets of Abhiramapuram, a neighbourhood close to the office of the Mylapore Times.
It is well over a year since the work on constructing drains was launched in this neighbourhood. And it remains unfinished in many streets and is in a shoddy state in many others.
We have received dozens of letters from the residents on this issue. Some wail, some crib and some sound helpless.
And despite the letters published, the complaints made online to the city's civic body and series of calls to elected councillors, there has been little progress.
Work on the drains started in my neighbourhood, in Sastri Nagar, Adyar in the latter part of 2011. And in a few days, it was evident to us that this was going to be a half-baked job.
The contractors' men started digging up the sides of the streets on the eve of the monsoon season. This was badly timed. The trenches received the floodwater and the choked streets were water-logged.
In time, the streets began to stink and people who walked down the streets at night faced the danger of slipping into these unmarked drains.
Only a death of a teen elsewhere in the city, a teen who had slipped into a open, half-done drain got the contractors to tie red tapes along the areas where work was on. That was a pretence indeed.
So what do we have today?
New, uneven drains alongside our streets with garbage, debris and waste packed inside them. Gaping holes in these drains at street corners. Rusty iron rods jutting out of the cement slabs. Uncleared mud now shoved atop the drains.
And the digging for new drains continues on many roads and streets.
The short spells of recent rains created a mess all over again and we dread the mess that awaits us at monsoon time later this year.
The SWD project, said to be funded hugely under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is one of the worst we have witnessed in this city.