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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 24, April 1-15, 2011
Freebies do not create better cities – or citizens
(By The Editor)

Madras Musings, as a matter of policy, rarely comments on political issues. But the ongoing electoral campaign, with the plethora of freebies, ranging from laptops to goats, has caused considerable concern – to all except those who are making the offer and some of those who will receive the promised goods in the event of an electoral win.

This journal is not against freebies per se. These are manifestations of a welfare state and in a country like ours, a certain amount of Government bounty is definitely required, especially for the uplift of the economically depressed sections. The noon-meal scheme was one such. In its time, it was received with widespread criticism, but today it is upheld as one of the important factors that contributed to the growth of literacy in Tamil Nadu and the consequent prosperity of the State. But the fundamental difference between freebies that were doled out 30 years ago and now is that what was given then went towards the improvement of basic necessities such as nutrition and hygiene. Today’s freebies are unwarranted luxuries doled out, while hygiene and other issues requiring improvement years back still exist. Only now, under the façade of overall prosperity, they are no longer being addressed.

That apart, not one of the political parties has addressed in its manifesto any issue concerning life in the various cities and towns of the State. Basic requirements such as civic discipline, law and order, environmental issues, housing, the right to clean air and water, and urban housing, are all completely forgotten. Where present, they are mentioned only by way of obligatory lip service. Does this mean voters are being taken for granted as those who can be seduced by freebies and are not interested in better civic conditions?

Take Chennai, the largest urban conglomeration in the State. Here are a few issues that parties could have addressed but have chosen not to.

* The city still does not have an effective means of segregating and disposing its waste. Organic and toxic wastes are freely mixed together and sent off to landfills where they lie, polluting the soil and the groundwater in a manner that we are unable to assess. The issue is at present affecting only those who are living in the immediate vicinity of the landfills and, so, the matter is being silently given the go-by.

* Our waterways are terribly polluted and much money has been wasted in trying to get them cleaned. Do any of the parties have a policy or view on the subject, beyond instituting judicial enquiries on the manner in which the money was spent thus far?

* The city is bursting at the seams by way of population. Is there any plan for developing satellite cities in places such as Kanchipuram or Chengalpattu to relieve this urban congestion? Or are we to continue believing that flyovers are the only cure?

* Our public transport systems of various kinds are inward looking islands with no means of seamlessly integrating into each other. Is there any master plan for improving on this?

* Pedestrians in the city have no place for themselves. Is this to be solved by converting everybody into a vehicle-user or are we going to have places where people can walk freely?

These are just some of the issues and the list is practically endless. Yet, none of these has been considered a matter of priority! These may appear peripheral issues but, in the long run, it is these slowly aggregating problems that can make or break a city.

Those who give freebies ought to also consider the impact such gifts have on the public morale. There was a time when Tamil Nadu was known for its work ethic. People believed in putting their best foot forward to receive a just return, by means of which they could improve their standard of living. Now, with just about anything and everything coming their way free of cost and with least effort, where is the incentive to work? Will this also not have an impact on our State in the long run? But with most parties looking only at the immediate short-term poll gain, it is unlikely that such concerns will even be noticed, leave alone addressed.

In this issue

Freebies do not create better cities – or citizens
Do we need white elephants for Metro stations?
Snake worship
100 years of a 'ladies only' club
Madras's first Hindu woman graduate
Other stories

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