You can safely trust our political outfits to be innovative when it comes to circumventing the law. With the administration being forced by the High Court to come down heavily on the erection of banners and cutouts, the parties needed some other method of cornering public spaces. The recent summer has seen a spate of politically sponsored water-dispensing facilities, all of them hogging the few remaining public footpaths and street corners. This is a new menace under the garb of social service that ought to be nipped in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.
Come to think of it, the recent summer was hardly a severe one. Moreover, with the present dispensation selling packaged water at heavily subsidised rates, where is the need for these water-dispensing facilities? And yet they have come up all over the city. They are all thatch structures which, incidentally, are not allowed by law, after the Kumbakonam school fire a few years ago. All of them carry the images of their favoured leaders and have bunting strung across the street thereby menacing two-wheeler riders as well. Songs praising the leader are played over a public address system every afternoon. There is yet another common feature among all of them – not one really dispenses any water. The only sign of such an activity is an empty water dispenser with not an attendant in sight. And yet, each one of them is declared open with much fanfare, an important party functionary doing the honours. Since when did temporary structures merit such prominence?
The goal, it is clear, is something other than the serving of water to the thirsty. That becomes evident now when summer is on the wane and yet there is no sign of these pavilions being removed. These have in effect become permanent structures that are protected by the political hoods of the locality with the administration either indifferent or simply helpless to do away with them.
Past history will tell us that this is exactly the way we ruined our city by erecting large advertisement hoardings. Many were classified as temporary, came up on street corners and footpaths and most had political patronage. When they began growing out of control in terms of number and size, and after there were several accidents leading to fatalities, civic activists had to fight the menace, which took several years, culminating in a Supreme Court judgement that banned them all. We have had a few hoarding-free years, but a casual glance around the airport area will show you that they are coming back in ones and twos, slowly but steadily. The will to implement the law is always weak in our city.
The same screenplay will be enacted in the case of these illegal water-dispensing facilities. Each evening, it is commonplace to see several anti-social elements congregating in these thatch shelters. From here to a spurt in organised crime is but a step. When confronted about this, some political leaders have argued that putting up water dispensers is an age-old Tamil custom. They cite the example of a prominent temple festival in Mylapore where such facilities come up each year on the day of the event. But what is forgotten is that they are also removed immediately thereafter, which is not the case with these politically motivated stalls.
The administration is, in the meanwhile, watching it all without any action being contemplated. They are obviously waiting for someone to file a public interest petition which, after following the usual tortuous routes, will finally result in a judgement that will necessitate taking steps.