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Vol. XXVII No. 20, February 1-15, 2018

Archives: Vol. XXVII No. 20, February 1-15, 2018


Where’s our Corporation?

by The Editor

When will elections be held?

According to the web site of the Greater Chennai Corporation, it is “headed by Mayor, who presides over 200 councillors, each of whom represents one of the 200 wards of the city.” The point is, where are they? The term of the last Council and, concurrently, that of the Mayor, expired in October 2016. Ever since, we have been administered by the Commissioner, in his capacity as a Special Officer. It is, therefore, more than a year since we have had elected representatives to handle civic issues. Not many in the city appear to be bothered, but in the long term, this is not to the good. True, the past record of many Corporation Councils do not inspire confidence but it is still necessary to have elected representatives, for it is they who take care of policy. The officers are there only for implementation, such as it is.

This is, of course, not the first time our city is operating without an elected Council. Following the muster roll scandal of 1973, the Corporation Council was suspended and we were administered by a Special Officer. This went on for 23 long years and it was only in 1996 that civic polls were held in the city. There is no denying that the absence of elected representatives cost us dear, when it came to infrastructure. From a city that was more or less well in control of its requirements in the 1960s, we became a metro that is forever struggling to cater to basic necessities. This was chiefly owing to the population boom of the 1980s for which we were unprepared. With no policy decisions being taken and the administration of the city becoming a matter of routine, infrastructure in most places deteriorated and we are today what we are. It is important that we do not allow for a similar hiatus to take place once again.

The non-conduct of civic polls was brought to the notice of the High Court of Madras, which then set a deadline of November 2017 for them. This date came and went and nothing happened barring the issuing of contempt notices to the Commissioner of the Corporation. The civic body then came up with a convenient excuse – the State Election Commission was in the midst of delimiting the constituencies and unless this was done it would not be possible for elections to be held. What is overlooked is that much of the State Election Commission’s work is managed by the Corporation itself. In short, the Corporation itself is to blame for the delay in delimitation.

Last heard, rumours are flying about that the civic polls may happen in March. If so, it is to the good. But given the current political uncertainty this may not happen. The ruling dispensation is likely to be nervous, what with its track record during the preceding Council’s tenure being mediocre at best. Its handling of the floods of 2015 was disastrous, despite the best efforts of a very dynamic Commissioner. The principal opposition party too may not be very certain of its prospects, especially after its debacle in the recently concluded R.K. Nagar constituency by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat. The city itself is largely unimpressed with the credentials of both the principal parties. Perhaps it is time for a new entity of people who have only Chennai’s welfare at heart.

But whatever be the choices before us, there is no way we can give up on our prerogative of electing our city’s Council. For it is only by insisting on polls that we can have a say in the way we are administered.


mat cover photo

A splendid photograph of migratory Greater Flamingos at the Vedaranyam Bird Sanctuary where Chemplast Sanmar and the Bombay Natural History Society are setting up a study centre. (Courtesy: Matrix.)


Stormwater drains: Do we even know where they are?

by A Special Correspondent

It seems that the British left us not only the railways, the postal system, education syllabi, jurisprudence and democracy but also, for Chennai, an 800-km underground stormwater drain of a unique arch design built of brick and mortar that has stood the test for over a hundred years.

The appalling part of the story is that we have not been able to maintain this gift in good repair because we do not – yes, believe it or not – we do not know how it functions and flows nor do we have any map or record of its network. Locations of this drain is known only “anecdotally, passed on from one generation of Corporation employees to the next”. Repair and restoration is carried out only when damage is located accidentally.

In the underground of this vast City, as in many others, there is a complicated network of a variety of pipelines, cables and installations comprising stormwater drains, sewage pipelines, water supply lines, power supply cables and telecom cables. Added to these we now have the underground portions of the Metro network. There being no central agency to coordinate and ensure proper positioning of different underground installations, there is a rash of damages to these vital lines from installation or repair work of one service provider or the other. A related consequence is that in trying to get the clearance of different service agencies, many essential construction projects like roads, flyovers etc. get unduly delayed. The delay of Phase I of the Metro alone has led to over-run of cost and time that may render its originally envisaged scale inadequate by the time it is completed.


The last family of Pardesi Jews in Madras

by N.S. Parthasarathy

Jews family treeWandering in search of the Promised Land, fleeing from mass persecution, and seeking refuge in widely dispersed parts of the world the story of the Jews forms an important chapter in the history of mankind. India has offered a home to them from ancient times. Judaism is said to be one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India. It arrived on the west coast. But, Madras too has given it its share of hospitality and Jews have lived here free of discrimination for centuries. Although they assimilated local traditions, without discarding their own ancient cultural moorings, their numbers have been dwindling post-Independence, because of emigration to  Israel and other countries. This is the story of the last (Paradesi) foreign Jewish family of Madras.

The Madras Jews were mainly Portuguese Jews. Following expulsion from Iberia in 1492 by the Alhambra Decree, a few families of Sephardic Jews made their way to Madras by way of England, Holland and Italy in the 17th Century. They established trade connections with their counterparts in many parts of Europe. Many of them conducted a flourishing business in rough Golconda diamonds, sending them abroad for refinement, cutting and polishing, and imported coral. Dealing in this business were the De Castro, Franco, Paiva and Porto families, among others.


Lost landmarks of Chennai


A postal service remembered

…And an attempt at revival

Mobile post office

In 2017, there was a revival of the Mobile Post Office, the service operating from St. Thomas’ Mount post office and
making three stops before Nanganallur and then returning at 8 p.m.

I do not know how many people recollect it, but when I was a child (and that was in the late 1960s, early 1970s) this was one of the highlights of a fairly humdrum existence in Mylapore. In those days, ‘mobile’ had an entirely different connotation. I would wait for Grandmother to finish writing her letters and then rush off to drop them at the ‘mobile’ as it was known. A part of the excitement was whether I would be able to reach it on time. A quick walk down Veeraperumal Koil Street and Karpagambal Nagar would have me arrive at Luz Church Road, huffing and puffing. The mobile would be standing under a tree just outside the Mylapore Club, its interior brightly lit.

Though it was just a van, seen through my young eyes it looked very roomy. Painted red on the outside and bright yellow inside, its interior was all hustle and bustle. Clerks sorting and bagging mail meant for various destinations; the steady thud-thud of the postmarking; and the answers to various queries as the clientele lined up to drop letters. The last named was a very simple task – you had to shove your packages/missives into a wide slot that jutted out like a lip from the van. The exciting bit was watching the letter slide in and be received in a bag at the bottom.