Monday, May 23, 2022

Chennai Corner

Rumours persist that the real reason Karunanidhi did not participate in the cabinet expansion was because his wish to see daughter Kanimozhi as a union minister was turned down

Chennai Corner

Publicity Blitz
Just a few days after the opposition slammed the Jayalalitha government for spending Big bucks on a publicity campaign when her government completed a year, the newspapers were full of advertisements from different companies (and one full page from the government) about the MoUs that the CM signed this week attracting investments to the tune of Rs 21,000 crores that will create 1.37 lakh jobs (direct employment for 36,855 persons and indirect employment for one lakh people)

“I take pride in saying that these agreements will go down in the industrial history of Tamil Nadu for bringing in the highest quantum of investment on a single day,” Jayalalitha told the assembly. The MoUs with seven companies was given the go-ahead in the Cabinet meeting on May 14, while five more companies got the green signal on October 2.

The numbers are impressive, but it can be judged only on what happens on the ground. For instance there were high hopes for other projects which have got stalled by the Jayalalitha government. The Rs.1,815-crore Chennai Port-Maduravoyal elevated link project, for which 30 percent of the work was done, has got suspended since April after the state’s Water Resources Department alleged deviations in the alignment. Work along the Cooum river in several areas is yet to be taken up. Although several piers have been erected at the Maduravoyal side, a final decision is yet to be taken about the landing point at Chennai Port.

This is one of the stalled projects that PM’s adviser T K A Nair will discuss when he meets with the CM soon.

So it’s all very well when Jayalalitha tells the opposition that her government goes in for a publicity blitz “with the sole objective of empowering people reap the benefits of government schemes,” but just informing through campaigns on projects that remain on paper is not enough.

Minister Kanimozhi?
There’s more political heft that S Jagathrakshakan can boast of now thanks to apparently sustained lobbying. The DMK was lobbying for him to get the railways portfolio quietly although DMK Chief Karunanidhi publicly made it clear his party was not interested in sending any more of its MPs into the union council of ministers. That did not happen during the recent reshuffle, but as a sop, Jagathrakshakan was moved as minister of state for new and renewable energy from information and broadcasting.

But he refused to take on his new assignment forcing the latest change as MOS, commerce and industry. He reportedly petitioned Karunanidhi for a “better portfolio” and that, to the uninitiated means a more lucrative assignment. An alleged sting by a media house in 2009 showed that his family-owned medical college collected Rs 20 lakh for an MBBS seat. Although Jagathrakshakan has denied this, the taint refuses to go away. In September, news reports alleged that his family owned stakes in JR Power Gen Pvt Ltd, which was awarded a coal block in Orissa in 2007. This too has been contested by him, but after the Niira Radia tapes, the DMK’s image as a corrupt entity refuses to go away.

Incidentally, there are rumours that it was not on any principle that Karunanidhi did not participate in the cabinet expansion. K. Narayanaswamy, a minister in the PMO, was dispatched to Karunanidhi twice to persuade him to allocate his MPs. The real reason was that his wish to see daughter Kanimozhi as a union minister was turned down. It’s no secret that he wants to see her as a minister, but PM Manmohan Singh would rather not face the nightmare of having a 2G accused—Kanimozhi was released last November after six months in Tihar as an accused in the CBI case—in his cabinet.

Unanswered Questions
Uncertainty dogs the salvage operations of Pratibha Cauvery because the plea by a deceased sailor Anand Mohandoss's brother is still pending in the high court. An interim order on the petition for payment of Rs 25 lakh by the brother, Sankara Narayanan, led to the vessel being detained. In its latest order, the high court has ordered that the stricken ship should not be moved from its territorial jurisdiction unless the owner deposits Rs six crore.

The sailors had been abandoned by the owners for over a month after they discharged cargo last month. That is why the sailors, after their plea to the Navy and Coast Guard went unheard, were desperate enough to escape Cyclone Nilam and climbed onto a life boat that capsized, in which 6 of the 22 died.

But the good news is that the four fishermen, who braved the choppy seas to rescue the sailors floating after their lifeboat capsized have been rewarded by CM Jayalalitha. Saying that  she appreciated “the bravery of these fishermen and another one who lent his boat for the rescue operation,” she announced a reward of Rs one lakh each. 

There are unanswered questions after the tragedy: Was the captain, Carl Fernandes, right to tell his crew to abandon ship when, as has been proved in the case of the 15 who remained aboard and were rescued, it would have been safer to stay put? If fishermen could brave the choppy waters and rescue the sailors why not the navy or the Coast Guard?

Sailors’ Plight
Chennai’s waters seem to have become a morgue for ships, albeit for different reasons. At least 12 ships were abandoned by their owners last year in the sea off Chennai.

Last year after cyclone Thane led to OSM Arena (a Korean vessel) going adrift after it lost one of its anchors on December 30, the vessel was pushed to shore. The Calcutta high court “arrested” it as a fight broke out about the dues it owed.

The collateral damage in this episode was to the 14 sailors on board, who ran out of food and water, and were abandoned to their fate by the owners. Only last month, the 14 sailors were allowed to come ashore. Currently, they are being provided medical facilities and other support services by the representatives of International Transport Workers Federation, Seafarers’ Club, Chennai and Sailor Helpline.

But home is still far away. The only good news is that the Director-General (Shipping) has given permission to the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) to sell the vessel and recover the dues of Rs 2.32 crore that has been pending for the last 10 months.

Meanwhile, sailors on board another tanker, MT Pratibha Varna, owned by Pratibha Shipping (which also owns Pratibha Cauvery), are stranded off the Chennai coast. Just like the 37-member crew of Pratibha Cauvery, which ran aground after the anchor came loose during last week’s cyclone, the crew of Pratibha Varma too have run out of food and water.

Officials do not allow crew members to disembark unless they are issued shore passes, for which all the ship’s papers have to be in order and since the owners have abandoned the ship, that’s not going to happen.

When Many Big Trees Fell
Parts of Chennai like Annanagar, Adyar and Besantnagar are cool because the green foliage has not yet completely yielded space to a concrete jungle. OMR is the hub for furious construction of gated communities, luxury apartments—some 50,000 apartments are in different stages of construction.

Cyclone Nilam which made its presence felt on October 31, also made many trees disappear because this storm blew gusty winds and not too much rain. Six persons lost their lives in Pratibha Cauvery but the loss to the green cover of the city was huge—at least 800 trees. The Chennai Crporation did an inventory and found that 61 big trees which were more than fifty years were uprooted. Some 771 younger trees were flat on the ground after the fierce gale while some trees lost their branches. The park in Thiravallur Kudiyuruppa in Annanagar, has not even been looked at by the corporation. There’s a massive tree here that has fallen over the swings and slides that children play on here. Now children come in and look glumly at what their play area used to be. Walkers have to lop off several metres from their morning constitutional because the tree is lying over their walking path. Little wonder that an environmentalist called the green tragedy a “tree cemetery.”

As it is, the city’s green cover is a mere 9.5 per cent of the city’s total area, way below the 33 per cent envisaged in the National Forest Policy formulated in 1988.

The corporation has been trying to find space for the two lakh saplings that Mayor Saidai Duraiswamy promised when CM Jayalalitha’s celebrated her birthday on February 24 this year. But says environmentalist Shobha Menon, “It is important to choose indigenous species like ‘veppam’, ‘pungan’ and ‘poovarasan’ which are more suitable to local conditions,” says Menon. More important is to nurture saplings rather than plant and forget. But that seems to be a tall order for a person like the mayor who is more busy pleasing amma than doing some real work and pleasing the citizens of this city.