Chennai, in the past few weeks has been witnessing an increase in the number of political meetings, rallies and other events of a similar nature. This is to be expected, given that the Lok Sabha elections are just a year ahead. While such meetings are absolutely necessary, given the democratic process that our country follows, what is debatable is the manner in which they are organised, throwing normal life completely out of gear.
The Madras High Court, which has been approached time and again with petitions against the holding of meetings which cause disruption and nuisance, has already clearly spelt out the restrictions which are to be observed during such events. But thanks to a very poor implementation process, most political events observe these guidelines more in the breach.
Political parties and the police cannot be unaware of the difficulties such happenings cause to the residents of the city. But given that such events are meant more to dazzle those who come in from the mofussil in large numbers, and where the votes really live, the travails of the locals do not appear to matter. However, with the rapid expansion of Chennai and its burgeoning population, the city as an entity cannot be ignored. Such events also constitute a major security hazard as such large gatherings are easy targets for disruptive elements and hooligans.
Can political parties and the police therefore look at the following aspects?
- Selection of venues – There are clearly identified spots in the city which are meant for holding political meetings. The selection, done jointly by the Election Commission and the police, was in the 1950s! Since then, these areas which were open spaces have been rapidly built over and holding of meetings at street corners in these localities, with all the accompanying nuisance of noise, obstruction and litter, creates chaos on an unprecedented scale. Can we therefore have a review of these locations and can alternative venues be selected?
- Routes for processions – Yes, we agree that nothing can equal the impact of a procession down Mount Road. But can this arterial thoroughfare really be handed over for processions? Such processions cut off all traffic movement, in the North and South directions and also to the West. Since we have only the sea on the East, this pretty much paralyses the whole city. The latest political event which took place in the pouring rain saw traffic clogged on Mount Road for hours, with the blockades finally being removed only at 2.00 am on the subsequent day! With traffic held up like this, how do those with emergencies manage? Or does human life not matter at all?
- Selection of day- Can we please, please have such processions on Sundays or any other national holiday and preferably in the mornings of those days? This way, the traffic will be much thinner and the likely scope for disruption would be a lot less. It will also make the task of the police a lot easier.
- Advance intimation of routes to be taken by procession- The police department through the media notifies the citizens of Chennai about traffic diversions, whenever government events such as the Republic Day parade take place. Can the same facility be extended when we have mammoth political rallies in the city? This way, those who have outings on that date can plan their time and also if possible select an alternative date.
- Managing VIP movement – Can the police force muster up the spine to inform the VIPs in our city that it is their movement which causes the maximum hold-ups and disruptions? Would it be too much to expect that someone in the police lays down the law to these VIPs and gets them to come to venues much ahead of the procession/meeting and not during peak hour? Can they also be made to stay at one place and not go up and down the route thereby causing further trouble?
- Handling the vehicles from the mofussil- In many ways, these are the root cause of all the trouble. A large number of vehicles come in on the days of the rally and these are allowed right into the city. Can we have such vehicles parked in the outskirts and get those who have come in them to make their way to the venue on foot? This will not only ease traffic problems, but also give the visitors a feel of how the average Chennai commuter travels on the days such meetings are held.
- Stop forcing students and government servants to attend such rallies- This is downright objectionable and is dictatorial in nature. Can we put an end to this kind of enforcement and allow such rallies to be a genuinely democratic expression? A lot more goodwill can be generated if this is followed.