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Tuesday 31 March 2020

Jaya Fiddles As TN Yearns

Editorials

Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
The founder of सिर्फ़ News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group. He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.

In India

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]he did not care for the warning from the weather department after it rightly read the development of a cyclonic circulation in the Bay of Bengal just off north Tamil Nadu — a result of the strongest El Nino observed over the Pacific Ocean in 18 years, with a cascading effect on the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. The flood also follows the hottest October in 136 years. Even if she were to have the obsolete notion that the met department mostly gets its predictions wrong, she could have taken contingency measures when nature itself warned her of an impending gloom with an incident of cloudburst early in this season of reverse monsoon in southern India. A local whiz kid Sai Prahlad had predicted the doom; his plea for drainage systems fell on deaf ears, too. We saw last year how paying heed to meteorological warnings in time saved Odisha from the 1999-like devastation. Tamil Nadu prays its ruler J Jayalalithaa were as sensitive as Naveen Patnaik.

Discharge From the Chembarambakkam Lake Inundated many areas In Chennai
Discharge From the Chembarambakkam Lake inundated many areas In Chennai

Releasing 30,000 cusecs of water from the Chembarambakkam Lake was either the height of Jaya’s callousness at this critical juncture, or it was too late for her to save the brimming reservoir otherwise. The shallow and narrow Adyar and Cooum streams, badly encroached as their banks were, could not hold the water in their confines and the inevitable happened: strong currents of the surplus water, which couldn’t flow straight into the British-made Buckingham Canal along the coast, gushed into the adjoining towns and inundated the whole area. This sloppiness in handling the topography of the region was over and above the government’s act of procrastinating construction of the almost 900 km-long storm-water drainage facility through Tamil Nadu.

Whatever semblance of a drainage network existed had been turned defunct by garbage dumping. In Tambaram, Sriperambudur and Ambattur, drains are altogether absent. The ruling AIADMK and the previously ruling DMK are as much to blame for allowing rampant concretisation of 55,500 ha of swamps, marshes and ponds — natural bodies that have the capacity to absorb excess water — in Chennai and smaller towns of the beleaguered State. About 1.5 lakh illegal buildings, as per a report submitted by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority to the Madras High Court, now dot what were once the city’s aquatic spots like Mudichur and Velachery, the second of which lies next to the hardly recognisable Pallikaranai wetland in south Chennai. That entire stretch has been turned into a business corridor for information technology companies. The CMDA continues to issue licences to build mindlessly while dismissing the hydrology of the area lock, stock and barrel.

Uttarakhand had ignored warnings from the weather department with as much callousness. This is also a repeat of the history of Mumbai floods caused by the clogging of the Mithi. Puducherry was flooded following the jamming of the Cooum. No lesson learnt from anywhere!

Tamil Nadu was simply not equipped to face 1,333 mm of rain for 32 days, the heaviest downpour in a century, in Chennai and worse in places like Cuddalore. The administration ignored a key rain measurement parameter — ability to hold an inch per hour — while constructing the drains that have now proved ineffective. Neither the previous nor the current government could explain what happened to the Rs 1,447.9 crore spent on drainage in 1999 and the Rs 4,500 crore the World Bank gave to it for the purpose this year! Nevertheless, Rs 8,500 crore worth of damages has been claimed for the last episode of inundation even as the Centre released Rs 940 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund for rehabilitation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an additional Rs 1,000 crore to make the State emerge from the calamity.

RSS Swayamsevaks are actively volunteering in the post-rain relief activities in many parts of Chennai
RSS swayamsevaks are volunteering in the post-rain relief activities in many parts of Chennai

Even as volunteers of the RSS and Art of Living jumped to help the Army in rescue and relief operations, Jayalalithaa is neither being hounded by the media as Omar Abdullah was during the Jammu & Kashmir floods that cost him his government, nor is the chief minister voluntarily issuing a statement of regret, let alone one of apology. One wonders why the media, particularly television, is soft on the most evident of political progenies of Nerō Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Yes, Jayalalithaa has been above average in handling Tamil Nadu’s economy; hers is a State that wasn’t much impressed by Modi’s pre-election promise of transforming India. But the Roman Nerō’s economics wasn’t bad either. Like Nerō, Jaya also upholds and promotes the local culture and traditions with aplomb. But again, like the Nerō described by historian Tacitus, she is also largely perceived as compulsive and corrupt — by the whole country, in general, if not by the people of Tamil Nadu, in particular. Well then, if her die-hard fans credit every good thing happening in their State to Amma, the head of the one-woman show must also get the brickbats for things gone wrong. The flood that has cost about 270 precious human lives so far is a case in point.

Such messages are circulating on WhatsApp in groups where AOL and RSS volunteers are members
Such messages are circulating on WhatsApp in groups where AOL and RSS volunteers are members

One also wonders what, beyond the compulsion of inadequate numbers in the Rajya Sabha, Modi’s urge is in hobnobbing with Jayalalithaa. Early this year, speculations were rife as to what made the court suddenly see innocence in the politician who had been damned as the epitome of corruption since the mid-1990s. Did the central political executive prevail upon the judiciary to ensure Jaya went scot-free, so that she, in turn, would extend the AIADMK’s help in the Upper House — an act of quid pro quo similar to the one where CBI is suddenly seen going soft on the TMC for the alleged involvement of its leaders in the Saradha scam in West Bengal?

chennai-relief-packageThe ‘reigning deity’ of Poes Garden, likened to the character of Sivagami from the movie Bahubali by MLA from Nellai S Muthukarappan, refuses relief offered by the Karnataka Government. Her henchmen stop trucks, despatched by philanthropists, social workers and relief agencies that have nothing to do with her party, from Coimbatore at Sriperumbudur and paste her pictures on relief materials. This, even as flood-hit residents complain that no councillor, block leader of the AIADMK or any government official bothered to visit them to see what trouble they were in!

This will inevitably be followed by an outbreak of communicable diseases as the residents of inundated areas come in contact with water carrying all kinds of toxic substances. Already 18 people have been reported dead in a hospital isolated by the waters as generators and ventilators at the health facility stopped functioning. Mercifully, about 1,700 medical practitioners have been pressed into service in about 200 medical camps in a desperate bid to check an outbreak after nature’s wrath manifested, the aftereffects of which could at the least have been mitigated with adequate preparedness.

As India mulls over its blind chase of ill-conceived urbanisation, it is time for the electorate to revisit the fascination with certain political demigods.

Featured image: This billboard depicting Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa as a brave character from the popular film Bahubali was put up by S Muthukarappan, an MLA from Thirunelveli

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