Ripon BuildingOur historic Corporation has seen the end of term of yet another elected council. The dates have not yet been announced for the civic body polls but the present elected body has, after a final three-day session, called it a day. This is certainly a good time to sit back and assess what has been done in the past five years, what could have been done and what needs to be done in the future.

The outgoing council has certainly not covered itself with glory. Much of its time was spent in masterly inactivity and when it did take action, it dealt with humdrum matters– renaming roads and colonies, promoting itself to a higher status by adding the prefix ‘greater’ to its name, masterminding the proliferation of budget canteens, covering potholes and ruts with an extra layer of tar and rejoicing over the installation of luminescent signboards for street names. It also, like several previous ones, embarked on a wholly unnecessary Marina beautification drive. There was good work done by the departments of education and health and parks were well maintained. But these have historically been well run, no matter which party held sway over the council. The one big initiative has been the effort to reclaim sidewalks, but this battle is not yet won.

We cannot disagree with our Worshipful Mayor when he blamed the citizenry for much of Chennai’s ills. A newspaper report has it that on the last day of the council meet he held Chennai residents responsible for non segregation of garbage at source, open defecation, dumping of waste on streets, construction debris and sewage pollution. Much of what he said was true but the council had five years to set matters right on several of these counts. That we are a truly indifferent lot is and was not unknown when the present incumbents took their oaths. So what prevented the council from taking action? Campaigns could have been launched in the mass media, stringent action could have been taken on defaulters and we could have had some concrete action plan for implementing segregation of waste at source in a phased manner. None of this happened. Why should the civic body just blame the citizenry?

Last year we had one of the most devastating floods that our city has ever seen. A lot of the damage could have been avoided had we stuck to some basic planning and more importantly, the monitoring of what goes on by way of construction and open area encroachment. Our civic body sadly, did not respond the way it ought to have. Apart from making statements that such heavy rainfall had not occurred for over a century (which by the way is not correct) and therefore any civic administration would have been caught unawares, nothing much was done. Relief had to depend on citizen initiatives. The floods are a distant memory now. And in case you did not notice it, the road level outside your house has just risen by a foot or so. Which means your residence is that much lower than the road. Which means next time it rains…

One significant development in the current tenure has been the State Assembly’s decision that the people will no longer directly elect the Mayor. This ensures that the Mayor will not have a fixed tenure for five years and that also means that a non-performing Mayor can be shown the door in the middle of a term. Will such a step bring in more accountability? Will there be a greater emphasis on performance? Only time will tell. But whoever gets elected to that post is likely to have his/her hands full, if they want to make a decisive improvement in our city’s quality of life.