Article written by Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer.
Published in The Hindu, 22/06/2008
To save a city: of civic chaos and bathos in Kochi
V.R. Krishna Iyer
It is a shock and a shame that the beautiful city of Kochi has been degraded from a clean and green urban area into an ubiquitously waste- defiled territory — thanks to grave dereliction of municipal duty and administrative anarchy. The situation is aggravated by a paradox: on its streets and avenues, shops that sell gold and silver stand on the one hand and heaps of garbage and filth pile up on the other.
Kochi is Kerala’s growing industrial capital and tourist centre. It has five-star hotels, big business sky-peaks, crowded apartments and a huge High Court building that looks more like a shopping complex than a majestic justice marvel. The Arabian Seabounds the city on the west. The milieu used to be green everywhere with coconut trees and turbid but cool backwaters encircling it. Kochi was the loveliest urban space in South India.
But a lurid gloom has befallen this quondam beauty spot on account of unplanned development and putrid degradation.
It presents a situation that is too delinquent to be forgiven, too traumatic to be tolerated. Concrete jungles, miasmatic drains, narrow roads and tricky footpaths pose risks for pedestrians. Vintage Kochi was charming, with history speaking of little princelings and imperial relics. But now it is foul and filthy, hostile to sanitation, and so tragic in traffic that road safety is a common casualty.
On the roads, potholes and large pits come back to back. Cars, buses, two-wheelers, three-wheelers and other frightful automobiles are parked in glaring violation of the rules, impinging on street space and paralysing traffic. Cars and trucks and snaky wild-wheelers terrorise people everywhere. Police inaction makes crazy locomotion a common violation, and frenzied goondaism an urban outrage.
The traffic lights function fitfully. Road blockages that last for hours, and rash driving, mar tranquillity. With walkways disappearing, pedestrians have become aliens: freedom of movement is a forgotten right.
Yet, the gravest crisis that confronts Kochi is mega-garbage malignancy. The perennial presence of unsightly garbage, plastic refuse and contaminated water makes living in this city a hazard. What pathos and bathos of mismanagement! There are no dustbins, no buckets for plastics, no public sense of cleanliness. There is nothing of the old clean and green city, with its sunny beauty and plural divinity.
The people are even now well-dressed, pretty and smart. But each day, residents throw waste and dirty water into public places, and the municipal authorities turn a blind eye to such acts. And the malodorous city remains untidy, stinks and sinks in overflowing drains. The rain aggravates the situation, leaving the rags and offal putrefying. The High Court, from its high edifice, does judicial justice, and pronounces on disputes at a lofty level founded on sublime jurisprudence beyond the reach of the have-nots.
But the most sinister sin being committed by the Kochi Corporation is the grisly garbage catastrophe. What a tragedy, trauma and travesty. Horror here, horror there, horror everywhere, in the harrowing layers of putrid waste lying all over the place. Is there a government that has concern for Kochi? Is there a sense of urgency to liberate this city from the garbage syndrome? The media write pungently and poignantly, but municipal instruments and
governmental organs ignore or remain ineffectual in the face of this noxious nuisance. Why don’t the members of the Municipal Corporation resign with self-respect, decency and dignity, in protest, and design a better municipal management? Does the Opposition have a solution,
and an alternative process to dispose waste?
Tourists will soon discover Kochi to be Mega-Garbage Inc., a challenge to public health and civic happiness. This city has a dreaded trinityof pathologies: its ever-expanding Smart City status; the perennial garbage syndrome; and the rash rush of speed monster vehicles including ‘tipper’ trucks. This urban malignancy is writ large ubiquitously. This collapse of public sanitation and traffic sanity can be restored by law, if enforced by incorruptible officers and community cooperation.
But callous municipal sweepers, sleepy police constables and an indifferent health department hold the civic administration to ransom. If awarded a week’s prison holiday, such administrators will wake up. The defaulting contractors deserve a cancellation order and a heavy fine.
To function well, democracy needs determination with socialist conviction. What a scandalising scenario of criminal chaos in front of their ‘lordships’ and the learned Bar! An emergency ordinance, a suomotu High Court mandamus, extraordinary public health militancy, and a
people’s war on endemic vices are the desideratum. But the iron curtain of ministerial myopia and political power pachydermy blinds them to municipal justice. The law is dead, governance is tricken by bureaucratic neurosis, politicians are locked in party polemics or lost in foreign travel, and judges are Bench-busy with long lawyerly ‘submissions’. Justice is not mere logomachy but the right to life in dignity.
The polluters should pay. The Kochi Corporation and the district administration, by chronic inaction and delinquent default has made killer traffic an hourly road tragedy and mounting garbage a barbarity. These deserve popular, media and judicial censure.
We must plan to ban every high-rise concrete monster littering Kochi. Every apartment complex, under municipal orders, shall construct a biogas or biomass unit or make compost using the waste, and shall not use notified plastic items. Traffic shall be humanised and rationalised. The glut of automobiles should be arrested.
Kochi is also a colony under the mosquito empire, whose army wings sing, sting and suck your blood till you submit to disease. The people of Kochi should arise, awake and never rest till the city is truth and beauty again. Unless this is done, what is today Kochi’s chaos, bathos and Thanatos will be everywhere in India tomorrow.