Among the many photos being shared online from Chandigarh councillors’ recent ‘study tour’ to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there was one that caught all the attention. Clicked on a pristine beach, it had fellow councillors from across party lines covering another in mud.
Was it good old fun on the beach, or unintentional parody? Was it just some men revelling, or were they turning the figurative into the literal? There was something quite truthful in the picture, in how your elected representatives showed you exactly what they do!
Such exercises have cost the residents of Chandigarh nearly Rs 1 crore in the past decade. The latest tour — a 10-day trip to Port Blair, Chennai and Kolkata from August 31 to September 9 — was organised by the MC for 20 councillors and six officers. It cost Rs 40 lakh, even more than the planned Rs 27 lakh.
Some of the councillors took their friends and relatives along; and, though they paid for their primary expenses, the move drew justifiable flak.
On paper, there is hardly anything wrong about the tours. Except that there are no papers to prove that these have been ‘study tours’ as such or have had any effect. Two years ago, BJP councillor Satinder Singh — who allegedly suffers from the sour-grapes syndrome — had asked the MC House about projects initiated on the basis of study tours. He claims to have been told in reply that no such record was available.
What’s also wonderful is how councillors of Chandigarh never find anything worthwhile in a study tour to places closer home, and usually go to tourist spots like Kerala and Sikkim. If they have spent lakhs of public money to visit some relatively rudimentary places like Kolkata and Coimbatore, too, they have more than made up with a tour to Singapore and Bangkok.
A quick study of the councillors’ priorities will also help put these tours in perspective. While these tours have been regular, key subcommittees of the MC have not even met or proved ineffective.
Take, for instance, the recent fire in Sector 17 that killed two firemen. It was clear that the men were underequipped, using their bare hands and metal rods as tools, handkerchiefs instead of oxygen masks to cover against the smoke. A Google serach will tell you what equipment is needed for firemen! Yet, even after several study tours over several years, two firemen had to die for the MC to realise its priority.
That, in what is billed as the most modern city of the region. A typical response is to shift the blame onto the UT administrations, the bureaucrats. Yet, one wonders why there are no noises by these elected representatives until someone dies. And it hasn’t gone beyond noises yet.
No councillor has bothered to take a tour of the city’s roads at night, it seems. Or they would’ve known that the stray cattle menace remains a reality. Surveys have put the number of stray cattle at around 3,000, but the real trouble begins when the 17,000 odd buffaloes domesticated by dairy owners of the city and its surroundings are let loose to graze. There is hardly any action against the owners except an occasional fine of Rs 1,500-4,000.
Almost a year ago — after some commuters’ deaths in accidents caused by cattle, of course — there was a semblance of activity. Rundown vehicles and untrained men ran around town catching cattle. But there was nowhere to keep them. When the cattle were being sent to gaushalas in UP, some people on the way in Haryana thought it was a case of cattle-smuggling and set the trucks afire after “freeing” the holy cows and buffaloes. The cattle-control drive never recovered from that hiccup.
Stray dogs too take pride of place among the issues that are only given lip service.
Which study tour will sensitise the councillors towards human deaths caused by animals that can be controlled? How many trips of Andaman and Nicobar does it take for former mayors to know that our firemen still don’t have equipment? How long will the politicians keep blaming the MC officials and vice versa? Especially when officials are also part of the latest beach revelry?
After the recent tour came under fire, some councillors alleged that the media was “doing one-sided reporting”. I wonder why these councillors did not, instead, list out all the useful measures they have taken after learning “new things” from these tours in the past.
By the mayor’s own admission, half of the 30,000 streetlights maintained by the MC are non-functional.
Will the dear councillors take a study tour of their own city too? Or do they only want to revel in mud?