Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 22, March 16-31, 2021
The State Assembly elections are on us and all parties are promising a bright future in case they are voted to power. A barrage of freebies is on offer but that is not something we would like to comment upon – several of the ones implemented have in the long run had a beneficial impact on the State and those that do not translate into reality do not matter anyway except perhaps as potential promises to be renewed in future elections. But what is a matter of surprise is that all political parties, and more importantly the two principal players in our State, have chosen to remain silent on a promise to revive elections for the Council of the Greater Chennai Corporation. This does not bode well for us, the people who reside here.
Our city’s Corporation may be one of the oldest in the modern world, but its history is not one of undiluted glory. In the early 1970s investigations brought to light what was known as the muster roll scandal – a sordid story wherein salaries were being paid to staff based on fictitious rolls, the money being shared between politicians, administrators and staff. That led to several high-profile arrests and much adverse publicity though it must be said that in the long run very little action by way of convictions really ensued. The Council was suspended and the city administered via Special Officers of the IAS cadre. This scenario persisted till the mid 1990s when elections were held again. Thereafter the Corporation functioned via a Council till 2014 with regular elections being held in the interim. That year, other political calculations intervened, no elections were held, and since then the Corporation has gone back to being administered by Special Officers.
The efficacy of an elected Council remains questionable. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that an elected representative is more accountable owing to the necessity of seeking office every five years. Moreover, there are certain grants that come to the civic body only if it is run by an elected Council. On the flip side, there is a view that there is much to be said for the reduced corruption in the absence of councillors. This is however debatable as even with Special Officers, the final decisions are taken by the political masters (read ministers and legislators).
What is however of greatest concern is the atmosphere of secrecy that the officials have shrouded the Corporation with. Its budgets are now passed in secret and not one of its resolutions since 2020 has been made public. We do however know that the deficit of the civic body is now around Rs 500 crore with expenditure on storm water drains continuing to remain at an all-time high. On the ground however, the city remains largely the same – prone to flooding in low-lying areas, bad roads and an overall shoddy administration. A lot of time has been spent on cosmetic changes – a selfie point on the Marina, a footpath widening scheme in T Nagar that has given rise to other problems, adding of plants under flyovers and the topping of roads. This is precisely what happens when administrators and not elected representatives take decisions. And the public can hold no individual accountable.
Between the two parties, the ADMK has never been keen on civic polls perhaps because it has rarely wrested control of the Council through elections. The city has traditionally been a DMK bastion. What is puzzling however is the DMK’s silence, this despite its Chief Ministerial candidate having functioned as a Mayor himself at one time. With everyone claiming to be a championing of civil liberties it is ironic that the first of these – a voice in local administration – is being denied to the people.