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Vol. XXIX No. 24, April 1-15, 2020

An Elected Council would have Helped

by A Special Correspondent

Even as the city is grappling with the lockdown, it is the officialdom that has to bear the full brunt of it and this includes interacting with the public and the media apart from handling logistics and providing support. While this may not be manifest to a larger public, it does pose a strain on the administrative machinery. This is where the absence of an elected corporation council is making itself felt. Had there been one in place, the task of fanning out relief measures and hearing people in distress would have been that much easier.

Let’s face it, our politicians are born communicators. They do know the value of being elected to office and will do anything and everything to retain that position. In such instances, handling of emergencies or how a local representative rose to the task is a good measure to judge performance and so Corporation Councillors could have been expected to deliver. At any rate, there would have been a local leader to ensure last mile connect. Critics of such a suggestion may argue that there was very little help forthcoming from Corporation Councillors and the Mayor during the 2015 floods, the hero of the occasion undoubtedly being the Commissioner. But that was a different era – the powers were concentrated in the hands of the then Chief Minister and nobody else could or was willing to take a decision. Contrast this with the scenario now – it is the health minister who tweets and updates on the situation with the CM handling major decisions. In such a situation, when responsibilities are more devolved, the Councillors could have taken on considerable responsibility.

Yes, we do have elected MLAs and MPs. But have you considered the size of each legislative assembly and Lok Sabha constituency? On the other hand wards are that much easier to handle, with fewer people and an elected representative who is necessarily a resident definitely helps. Meeting up with them, highlighting local issues, raising volunteer bands, putting together relief mechanisms – all of these would have been simpler and more grassroots based rather being top down, which is what it is now. Take for instance the panic that gripped local grocers and pharmacists when the police began forcing them to close. Would a Corporation Councillor not have helped?

The city has, sadly, learnt to get on without a Council, the last elected body’s term ending in 2016. The State Government is pretty much relaxed over the delay. The Opposition is the one that is crying foul. Strangely enough, four years ago, when the elections fell due, it was the Opposition that did not want them. This despite the local administrations under the present party in power not having performed much and therefore standing very little chance of a re-election. The Opposition took the matter to court, querying the hurried announcement of dates, citing irregularities and law & order problems. The Courts had obligingly stayed the elections.

Since then, it is the State Government that has hummed and hawed. It cited a delimitation exercise, to be in place following the 2011 census, as the principal stumbling block.

It is however not clear as to what has really held up this exercise for over seven years now. In September 2017, the Court had ordered that the elections had to be completed by November that year. There was no action and when summoned and asked to explain what amounted to contempt of court, the Election Commissioner of the State was quick to apologise. He also cited certain changes in the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act that placed legal hurdles in the conduct of the elections. Finally, late last year, with the Courts brooking no further delay, local body polls were held in all non-metro regions of the State. The opposition won most of the seats. As for the city, there are no signs of a poll and now COVID has come in as a convenient excuse.

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