Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 20, February 1-15, 2016
Having sufficiently exploited the soil on which we live and depleted the water available, it would appear that air is the next scarce commodity. Early last year, some of the European nations classified a job in India as a hardship posting, chiefly based on air pollution standards.
New Delhi was clearly the worst offender and remains so. The Government there was forced to take the unusual step of enforcing a rule wherein cars with odd-numbered registration would be taken out on certain days with those with even-numbered ones being driven on other days. The Odd-Even rule as it was called led to much derision and the brief period during which it was tested showed that there was no appreciable improvement in air quality. This, of course, may be because the time of experimentation was too short. But it did bring home a sobering reality – air pollution is a menace. The question is, how far is Chennai behind and what can it do to improve its air quality?
There is bad news for us. The National Air Quality Index (NAQI), launched in April last year, has shown that Chennai tops the list in air pollution. It is just that the nature of contamination is different. Delhi made it to the news as the most polluted city in the world owing to the particulate content in its air, but Chennai, along with Kanpur and Varanasi, scores on toxic content owing to gases such as nitrogen and sulphur dioxides. The NAQI measures air pollution in cities and raises an alert on days that are classified as severe, very poor or poor in terms of air quality. Last year, Chennai had the highest percentage of severe days – 17.7 and one third of all days fell under either the severe, very poor or poor classifications.
The chief reasons for these are construction dust and emissions from vehicles. Despite the slow-down in the real estate sector, there was considerable construction activity last year in the city. In addition, the metro rail work, that has been going on for over four years now and is likely to extend to another two, has also contributed to this. The latter is, of course, the price we need to pay for getting what is promised to be an effective public transport system that will cut the usage of cars which, along with two wheelers and autos, are the other major pollutants.
A 100-year-old institution, plenty of history behind it, some great buildings, a vast tree-filled campus, a location by the beach, the first swimming pool exclusively for women in the city – the list of attractions is seemingly endless. What would have happened had this been in Oxford, Cambridge or any American University? It would have been a campus aspiring to be a star tourist attraction and an institution of national pride. But since this is Chennai, the situation is exactly the opposite.
The college we are referring to is Queen Mary’s, the second oldest women’s college in South India and the first in Madras city. For years the campus has presented a picture of neglect and the central building and the oldest on site – Capper House was pulled down after suffering a lack of maintenance.
Continuing north from the Wallajah Gate, we walk along the western periphery of Fort St George. There is no name to the street that takes us through. On the right are several barracks, most of them unoccupied and in various stages of collapse. On the left is the massive western wall of the Fort. As you walk by you will not fail to notice a long ramp built on the wall, making its way to the top. This was once used for wheeling the gun carriages up to the ramparts. This is the western face of Fort St. George and on the other side of it you have the massive quadrilateral, St George’s Bastion. This is historically significant, for it is one of the few portions of the wall that can really be dated with accuracy. Though no longer visible, H.D. Love has it that on the southern face of this bastion is a stone with a Greek border that bears the following legend:
As an extension of the annual Mylapore Festival, wholly funded by Sundaram Finance, we decided to focus on the houses in the heart of Mylapore which are over 50 years old – the idea being to make the house-owner feel proud of the fact that he/she owns such a house and should retain it and make an effort to restore/whitewash/repair it and not sell it to a developer.
Handlooms have been part of the rhythm of life in India and belong to an industry which is second only to agriculture. Indian textiles have created turning points in history. Gandhiji “cremated” foreign fabric in an act of defiance, collecting them from sophisticated Indians who wanted to be on the same page as the British. It drained the British coffers and marked the beginning of the end of colonial rule.