By the time this issue of Madras Musings reaches its readers, the elections to the city corporation will be over. The elections are being fought on party lines and what is saddening to observe is that not many candidates are standing on platforms that promise civic improvements. They are simply echoing the political manifestos of their respective parties, none of which has any relevance to the city’s administration. This is a major cause for concern.
This is the first time in the history of the Corporation of Chennai, which incidentally is the second oldest municipal body in the world, that elections are taking place for 200 wards. This is following the increase in the area that is being governed by the Corporation to include Greater Chennai in its ambit. The expanded area stretches to Sholinganallur in the south, Kathivakkam in the north and Ambattur in the west adding 5 more zones to the previous list of 10 zones. With the Corporation having been challenged in the past even with a reduced jurisdiction, are its councilors in any way equipped to handle the demands of an expanded area.
A record number of mayoral candidates – 32 in all, are in the fray. This is the first time in two decades that the Mayor will be directly elected by the people – a record 44.9 lakh voters selecting the candidate of their choice. But not many of the candidates even appear to be aware of the gravity of the election. There promises are vague to say the least. One has promised to uplift the poor, another has said that the city will become very clean. A third is asking for an opportunity to usher in the rule of Kamaraj who was never Mayor in any case. So where does this leave us?
We at Madras Musings have therefore drawn up a wish-list that the Worshipful Mayor ought to consider implementing when he/she takes office. Dare we say we hope for the best candidate to win?
1. Can we please have footpaths? It is high time that the requirements of the pedestrians are taken care of and their interests should not be sacrificed for those travelling on/in vehicles. Walking is healthy, clean and green.
2. Can we have restrictions on the number of new private vehicles that are being registered? Singapore, which Chennai has always tried to emulate with very little success, has long had this policy. Today our roads have reached a state where they cannot take any more vehicles.
3. Can we have stricter parking laws? It is high time we took stock of parking spaces that are available in the city. We cannot simply hope that cars, vans and two-wheelers will somehow manage. It is time we had clear parking lots and perhaps it is also the time for us to explore punitive parking fees to discourage unnecessary use of private vehicles even for short distances.
4. Can we hope to have a public hygiene campaign? How do we educate our people that defecating, relieving and spitting in public are not indicators of decent behavior? And arising out of that can we have more number of public toilets and can these be maintained well?
5. Can we hope for a census of trees in the city and a freeze on their being cut down to make way for roads? Can we have a proactive policy on tree pruning so that they do not get uprooted during storms?
6. Can we expect tighter monitoring of buildings under construction to avoid FSI violations and to ensure adequate parking facilities and fire protection? There is no point swinging into action after a disaster has occurred.
7. Can we make the city poster and grafitti free (after the Corporation election perhaps)? The present Corporation had taken steps to ensure this but these were observed more in the breach. Can we hope for real action?
8. Can we expect an integrated public transport plan that will involve trains, buses, the MRTS, the Metro and the Monorail? True, most of these are independent agencies but the Mayor will play a key coordinating role.
9. Can our waterways – the Cooum, the Adyar, the Buckingham Canal, the Otteri Nullah, the Mambalam Canal and others becoming anything other than gutters? Can we hope for a master plan for these waterways?
10. Can we expect garbage segregation at source? With tenders being called afresh for garbage clearance, this is the right time for getting our act together. And can we also look at safe disposal of garbage without taking recourse to landfills, marshes and plain burning?
11. And lastly, can we hope that once elected, our councillors and Mayor will sink party differences and objectively act on what is best for the city? They could well take a leaf from S Satyamurti’s book. During his tenure as Mayor in 1939 he got the Poondi Reservoir inaugurated. There was a demand from the Congress of which Satyamurti was a member, that he ought not to attend the foundation laying ceremony as the British Governor would be the Chief Guest. Satyamurti dissented and said that his role as Mayor necessitated his presence and went ahead. Can we hope for such individual courage?