Monday, December 06, 2010

Is it too much to expect the city administration to do its homework well?

When it’s summer, you look forward to the rain. The first monsoon showers are always welcome but when it drizzles and pours, in interludes, almost non-stop for two days and more, you get depressed and weary. Perhaps if you were retired sort, had nothing much to do, loved the company of books, had grandchildren by your side, and lived on the second floor, life in Chennai during the monsoon may be livable.

But if you have work to do outside, have planned meetings with people, hate stepping on sticky muck on the road, and have no driver, you feel like a prisoner. Well, it’s house arrest really and you reach out for books you haven’t had time to read in long time, even as you make several visits to the kitchen and raid the storeroom, hoping to find a tasty morsel of food that’s been deliberately hidden from you. And then you suddenly realise that the larder isn’t well stocked at all, and indeed the stock of whatever you’ve managed to find is just not enough for a rainy day.

Well, I’ve been catching up on my reading, wishing at times that I could have had made it to the launch of B.G. Verghese’s book (First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India) a few days ago. It had not only rained that day; at 5.30pm, an hour before the programme, a part of the road on Eldams Road caved in, and you can imagine how chaotic the traffic might have been. It was. For two hours and more, vehicles inched their way forward.

Today, there is the launch of Ramachandra Guha’s book (Makers of Modern India), but with the roads as they are and after seeing pictures on television of areas in Egmore and Nungambakkam flooded, I just didn’t have the gumption to drive all the way from KK Nagar. Coordinators of Namma Arcot Road: please note. It might not be a bad idea to get Guha some day to talk at Hotel Green Park.

About three weeks ago, I had sent Sanjay Pinto (NDTV-Hindu’s executive editor) an email, stating how terrible the condition of many roads in KK Nagar were (you will find pictures on one of my earlier blogs). Sanjay quickly got his reporter to do the story, which was telecast during news hour through the following day. The reporter had got the local councilor to respond and he assured that dug-up portions would be leveled and sore sights would disappear once Corporation workers saw sunny days.

Of course, several sunny days came and went after that telecast. Work at one end of Alagiriswamy Salai did begin, but at the end of it all, the area continued to look as if it had been shelled. Even on a sunny day it took courage to drive over the ‘leveled’ area, but you had little choice. You felt like you were in a boat, bobbing up and down. Now, with incessant rain, and the streets leading to the spot waterlogged, I’ve not dared to venture to have a look. The unfinished work, or shoddy work, as well as the pathetic condition of many roads in the area has only whetted my appetite to take more pictures, perhaps tomorrow. There are many calls I received today - from Perambur, Velachery, Egmore, Purasawalkam. Friends and frelatives shared similar stories.

Monsoon arrives every year. There are floods every year. And it’s the same story (flooded streets, marooned houses, waterlogged homes) each time. Of course humankind cannot fight against the vagaries of the weather, but surely the administration of a city (which chronicler S. Muthiah repeatedly stresses is “the first city of modern India”) must set the bar higher and ensure that flooding does not occur, that roads can be used without the fear of falling in dirty water or drowning, that clogged drains are thoroughly cleaned, and that when the rain comes life in the city can go on as usual. When will our city administrations change and become proactive, rather than responding to news stories in mainline dailies or on popular TV channels? Surely, isn’t there greater satisfaction in accomplishing something for the welfare of the people than in being hauled up and then tying to make up for negligence and indifference?

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