When they come, they will be taken through some carefully groomed areas. We refer to the Global Investors who, when they land for the much awaited meet, will get to see certain parts of our city at their best and brightest. Civic works are progressing at a rapid pace to meet the deadline. We are happy at this and agree that some amount of showcasing is necessary to attract foreign business, but if all this is to be mere window dressing, will they not at sometime wake up to the sham? Or is it that their money will be committed by then and so it really will not matter what they think?
The late M.S.S. Pandian often referred to the three faces of any urban settlement – exhibition, museum and backyard. The authorities are now working overtime to take care of the first and second elements. If newspaper reports are to be believed, 55 lucky roads are coming in for some pampered treatment. These are the ones that lead to five star hotels, some heritage buildings (!!!) and the Nandambakkam Trade Centre, which is the venue for the event. The select set of thoroughfares is being re-laid; they will have pedestrian and other markings done in colour and also have stagnant water drained. Though this is not mentioned, we are fairly certain that traffic lights on these “40 bus routes, 15 interior roads and ten highways” will also be working and there will be policemen in attendance, all gleaming in uniform and waving luminescent batons. No doubt, the investors on seeing all of this will believe that the rest of Chennai is also just so. What more could we ask for?
If that settles the exhibitions, the museum part is already handled, for fifty heritage buildings have been selected, all along the key roads, of course, for a facelift and illumination. It is like dressing up grandfather to meet your friends when they come home. A quick nod of greeting and then let us get on with the rest of the show.
If Bharat Insurance Building is painted on the front and illuminated, it really will not matter that the structure has been without a roof for ten years, or will it?
And showcasing these structures will also conveniently hide the fact that we have had a Heritage Act passed by the Assembly three years ago but we are yet to see any action on it.
What if some of these investors want to see our backyard? You know the places where we have hidden the garbage that has been taken off the first 55 roads? What if someone wants to know what is our city’s garbage disposal policy? Can we say that all we have on the anvil are a set of disinterested conservancy workers who come around in badly maintained vehicles two or three times a day and in a half-hearted manner clean up whatever they feel needs to be removed? Can we also be open about the fact that we don’t know what to do with our garbage after collecting it? And that we top the country in garbage generation? What if they look at the Cooum, the Adyar and the Buckingham Canal and want to know why they are mere sewers? And what if someone quotes the latest survey on cleanliness in India’s cities where Chennai did not even feature?
Global investment these days has a lot to do with economic opportunities. But the latter term has long ceased to mean just profits and growth potential. Today’s investors look for the well-being of stakeholders, and that includes employees and also means the quality of life in the city in which business is proposed. Chennai has long given up on improvement of its civic infrastructure. What little is being done is patently inadequate. Unless this changes, all these eyewash tactics are going to fool no one.