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Vol. XXV No. 16, December 1-15, 2015

The best and worst of times

By A Special Correspondent

It was, to quote from the well-known A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times. The recent deluge saw two different faces of Chennai on display and such were the contrasts that they could have been two entirely different cities altogether.

First the positives – the infrastructure did not quite breakdown as thoroughly as was expected. The telephone lines worked in most localities and as for power supply, it continued uninterrupted except in areas where trees fell, cables snapped or transformers combusted.

The milk was delivered without fail. Ambulances responded to calls. The real heroes were the policemen that manned the various signals at enormous risk to their lives, as were the others of the same profession who thought nothing of wading through chest deep water to rescue stranded citizens. Help even came via helicopters.

A cab service claimed it ran boats but we will let that pass as a cheap opportunity for publicity. The Corporation staff worked overtime as did Metrowater. And, what is more, all calls to the civic body, the TNEB and the Metrowater were answered, politely at that, and action was taken speedily. A city that is not exactly known for neighbourly spirit suddenly saw its residents rise to the occasion and help each other. The next day, people had begun to get back to work All this just showed that Chennai can handle crises as well as any other metro.

The national media, used to making a hullabaloo of such instances in other cities, hardly took any notice, but then we are used to such treatment and perhaps don’t care. The local media reported on expected lines –Opposition run channels trash­ed the Government for its poor response and those of the other variety showered praises and sang paeans to the powers that be.

And now for the negatives. Did we really have a crisis or did it just expose the way we have bypassed standard operating procedures when it comes to city planning and area development? Let’s face it – this was only the heaviest rainfall that Chennai had seen in ten years, there had been much worse before that – in 1976, for instance. True, the city was smaller then and we had most of our water bodies intact so that they could absorb the surplus water. The Pallikaranai Marsh was much bigger, not having been encroached upon. The Buckin­gham Canal still functioned as a storm water channel if not a navigable waterway. It did not have the pillars of the MRTS blocking its flow. Roads, when re-laid, were being done with awareness about surrounding area elevations – it was not a question of just adding to the existing surface, thereby raising the level to such an extent that water flooded the surrounding areas. New colonies when developed had a working drainage system laid out before construction of houses began. Illegal structures were far fewer in number and therefore did not burden the drainage or, worse still, block it off (we are not exaggerating here – the recent deluge necessitated the demolition of a leading (opposition) politi­co’s portico as it was built on a public storm water drain­ed). Trees were still of the native variety and were lopped regularly so that they did not lean alarmingly over the road.

And, so, when did we lose sight of these basic civic disciplines? And is it too late to get back to them? The answer to the latter is a most resounding ‘No’. We do not have any other option but to set right our malpractices. There is a lot of hard work ahead if we need to get this done. But if we display the same spirit as we had during the floods, we are sure to succeed.

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