Missing! Our city’s Corporation

It has been well over a year since the city has had an elected municipal Council to handle civic issues and it is still uncertain when elections to the Greater Chennai Corporation will 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 issuance 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 for 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.

[This was first published on the author’s blog here, and has been republished with permission.]

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