Of late, our State Government has been coming up with rules and regulations that can only be termed draconian and extremely regressive, when it comes to public spaces. In the past 24 months, the only answer to certain incidents that have taken place has been to shut off all access to the locations where these happened. Thereafter, no corrective action of any kind is taken, thereby showing that what can at best be a temporary measure becomes permanent and as a consequence making the innocents suffer while those who caused the original incidents are left to go scot free. We allude to the shutting off of the Marina for all congregations, the blanket ban on all trekking in Tamil Nadu forests, and the fire in the Pudu Mandapam at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai.

It is now almost 15 months since the flash agitation for Jallikattu took place on the Marina. As to why that protest happened and who exactly were backing it remains a mystery even now. But what people have had to live with since then are restrictions of access as far as the beach is concerned. This has, of late, become even more severe, what with the State Government having fears that those demanding Cauvery water could well congregate here. As a result, two-wheelers can no longer park along the beach and the public is not allowed on the promenade.

In a parallel to this is the instance of the forest fire at Theni, which, sadly consumed the lives of several trekkers. The Government has since imposed a blanket ban on all trekking activities. Yet another incident, which echoes these, is the fire at the Pudu Mandapam in Madurai. Following this there have been calls to remove all shops from all HR&CE temples in order to prevent such incidents. Can wholesale eviction be a solution? Shops and rental incomes from these have been an integral part of temples for decades now.

All these incidents point to the failure of agencies run by the Government. A public space is meant for the public to congregate and, if necessary, express their opinion. Even Freedom Struggle meetings have happened at the Beach. It is a Government’s duty to address such issues and ensure that the protesting public disperses peacefully.

Similarly, in the case of the Theni fire, the trekkers did buy entry tickets and go into the forest. And so permission of a kind had been taken. As to what fire warning systems there are in place, is the question to be answered. World over, there are designated trekking areas in wooded districts. These have safety warnings, places to take shelter in, in the event of disasters, and methods to track those who are trapped. It is doubtful if any of these protective measures were in place at Theni. Now, instead of ensuring these are implemented, the Government has chosen to shut off all access to trekking. What purpose does this serve? The forests will only become dens of anti-social activities with perhaps worse disasters to follow.

As for the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the public has for long noticed what was invisible thus far to our fire and safety authorities – dumping of plastics, drawing of wires all across the place and usage of lighting and power of wattage that was far beyond what was permitted. The precinct was inviting a fire and when it happens, there are calls for evicting all shops from not only this temple but from every other historic shrine. Is it even feasible to implement?
What is needed now is regulation, for which the laws exist but are sadly not implemented. Blanket bans can only make matters worse.