Ripon Building
Ripon Building, from A Book on South India by JC Molony

Suddenly it would seem, our city’s Corporation has gone into a frenzy of action. Just count the number of ‘achievements’ in the past two weeks and you will get the general idea – the civic body upgraded itself by the simple expedient of adding a ‘Greater’ to the Chennai it is supposed to govern, it launched an enquiry into the tardy pace of desilting works in water bodies, 65 new mini bus routes were inaugurated, pavement projects at NSC Bose Road and Mylapore have gone into overdrive, a programme has been announced to see how areas around metro railway stations can be developed, several illegal buildings have been sealed in Sowcarpet (approximately 0.00001 per cent of the total number of such structures), work has begun on drainage projects and the installation of LED lights on roads has received a boost. Chances are that if you open your newspaper of a morning, you will get to read a lot of Corporation news these days.
While it does leave you with the wistful thought that the same dynamism if displayed over the past several years would have transformed our city, a moment’s cold reflection will also give you the reason for this newfound fondness for ­action and achievement – elections to the State Assembly can be announced at any moment thereby binding the civic body to electoral conduct rules that would mean a blanket ban on any new schemes being launch­ed.
While it must be said that all of these initiatives are beneficial to our city, the bringing on board of so many automatically means very few will see the light of the day. Given our civic body’s track record of seeing projects to fruition and its usual lament of lack of manpower and resources, many of these seem to be empty announcements with an eye on the election ­results.
Ours is a State where all civic bodies look to the State exchequer for funding. That means the same political party needs to be in power both at the State Government and the Corporation Council. True, on paper, all administrations need to be neutral once they are in office and rise above such petty considerations, but reality has always been different here. What if a different political dispensation makes it to power? Next, we also have elections to the Corporation shortly falling due. And what if there is an upset result with another political party coming to power? Or even worse, what if the Assembly and the city council have two opposing parties in power? We can be fairly sure that none of these ideas will take off.

Despite having majorities in office, no civic administration, be it the present or earlier ones, has focused on any core issues – water stagnation and the mos­quito menace, the problem of poor quality roads that are laid with no concern as to standards or durability, the desilting of drains, and the development of a sustainable model for the city to exist. Chennai is on the verge of an infrastructure ­collapse and is at present getting by only because several other cities appear to be far worse. Thus far, our Corporation councils have chosen to dwell on cosmetic issues – beautifying the beach, putting up road signs, launching of ­canteens and tarring a few roads. True, the Corporation’s track record in healthcare and education is truly commendable but these are departments that have historically done very well.
It is to be hoped that whoever is in power next in the city council has the political will to break out of this rut in thinking.