The political battle in Tamil Nadu has always been fought on public walls. Graffiti and posters are the norm. They present an ugly picture of the city. A few years ago, the then Government woke up to this and declared some key roads of the city to be poster and graffiti-free. Artists were invited to paint their impressions of regional culture and history on the walls of public buildings along these thoroughfares.
The present Government has decided that these walls will now be painted over and covered with advertisements and messages regarding the Government’s public welfare schemes. Even otherwise, the paintings were not maintained and everyone (the political party that ran the previous Government included) has been pasting posters on these walls. It is a sad commentary on the way our Governments are run and a telling example of our scant respect for public property.
Posters and graffiti have long been a menace in Tamil Nadu. Though laws explicitly forbid the defacing of walls, these provisions have never been implemented except when elections are fought and, that too, only when a particularly strong Election Commissioner calls the shots. Matters continued this way till 2009 when the then State Government suddenly woke up to the menace. Arterial roads in Chennai were declared out of bounds for posters and graffiti and violators were to be fined. And, what’s more, perhaps with a view to impressing foreign visitors, something that has always been of great importance to the powers-that-be, it was also decided that artists from Government Colleges would cover public walls with their works. They were paid Rs.30/sq.ft and a total of 15 lakh sq.ft of wall space was covered. Whatever their artistic quality, they were better than pasting cinema posters and writing graffiti. And they did not carry any political message.
As an idea it was very good and as usual it failed in maintenance. The well-being of these paintings was entrusted to road contractors, overlooking the demand of the artists that they be given the responsibility. The contractors had very little idea as to how to go about maintaining these works and several began flaking off. But the idea did catch on and even neighbouring Karnataka implemented it in Bangalore.
The change in the power equation post-election saw a complete about turn on this ‘beautification’ – as well as other schemes. A new regime in Tamil Nadu invariably means reversal of several actions of the previous one. The walls have fallen victim to this. Posters have reappeared and, amazingly, the party in power that implemented the poster-free policy is also merrily contributing its bit. The latest blow is the decision to whitewash the walls and cover them with info-mercials, which can probably mean paeans to those in power.
It is not only the political parties that paste posters. Film productions, magazines, event managers and temple managers – all contribute to it. There is no attempt at chastising the offenders. No public or private space is immune to this menace. Even the corrugated sheets that hide the Metro Rail work from public view have become convenient poster-boards. The CMRL, however, it is reliably learnt, has decided to punish the offenders.
Sadly those who implement civic cleanliness on a wider scale don’t seem to be thinking on CRML lines. It is a sad state of affairs and speaks volumes of the way we look at urban cleanliness and creating a charming Chennai, no matter who is in power.