OVER the years, the Kerala High Court has been flooded with petitions complaining of steady deterioration of conditions in Kochi, the state's largest city.
In exasperation, the court recently warned the City Corporation that it could be thrown out if it did not perform.
At the time of the 2001 census, the Kochi urban agglomeration had a population of 1.14 million. Out of this, only 564,000 lived in the Corporation area.
In the recent past, the city proper has witnessed massive construction activity and shown signs of evolving into a metropolis.
With some major projects like Smart City and the Vallarpadam container terminal on the way, the city is now set to grow at an accelerated rate.
One issue that came up before the High Court through a writ petition was the mosquito menace, which has dogged the city for as long as one can remember.
This, of course, is not a problem that can be solved through a judicial pronouncement. While the court made heroic efforts to press the authorities to act, the problem persists.
The Corporation's failure is most evident in the area of garbage clearance. The city, which generates about 250 tonnes of garbage daily, did not have a waste treatment plant until last year.
For years, the Corporation used the Willingdon Island as the dumping ground.
The Navy, which has establishments on the island, objected.
The Corporation then started dumping garbage at Brahmapuram, which it had picked for location of its waste treatment plant.
When residents of Brahmapuram protested, with no place to dump the waste, the civic body suspended garbage removal altogether, and the city began to stink.
The High Court then stepped in and directed the district collector to make the city free of garbage within five days.
Against this background, the High Court's warning to the Corporation, which has proved itself a colossal failure, comes as no surprise. Two questions arise in this context.
Is the problem one of inefficiency of the civic administration? Or is the city becoming ungovernable? Both the questions need to be answered in the affirmative.
The concept of governance is virtually unknown to the political parties, which gain control of the administration through elections.
To them, power is primarily a means to provide patronage and dispense favours. Narrow political considerations prevail in the selection of candidates for civic posts.
The choice of Mercy Williams to head the Kochi Corporation is a case in point. Under the system of reservation, it was the turn of a woman to be the Mayor. There was no record of public service or administrative experience to commend Mercy Williams, a former college teacher, for the post. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) picked her because she belongs to a religious group which it was keen to cultivate.
The time has come for all parties, particularly the CPI-M, which controls most of the city corporations, municipal councils and village panchayats, to recognise that local administration means much more than selection of beneficiaries for welfare measures.
Improving Kochi's administration deserves urgent attention since failure to take timely action to develop infrastructure has already made the city somewhat ungovernable. A study, conducted by the Indian Institute of Architects some time ago, showed that unplanned urbanisation has resulted in water shortage, poor storm water management, inadequate waste disposal, destruction of natural heritage, etc.
To get a full measure of the problems of governance of the city, one has to take into account also matters like growth of the goonda menace and shrinkage of housing facilities for the poor, which do not fall within the sphere of the civic body.
Two private projects, a hi-tech city and a knowledge park, are expected to come up before the State government for approval this week. The promoters claim that they will create 100,000 jobs. Such big projects will accelerate the city's growth, making it even more ungovernable.
A metro rail project conceived as the answer to the city's traffic snarls is yet to get off the ground.
The Planning Commission wants it to be a public private participation project, but the State government is keen to keep the private sector out.
While the metro rail may ease inner-city traffic problems, it is likely to add to the city's woes by leading to further population concentration.
A more sensible approach may be to promote long-distance commuting which will help disperse the city's working population over a wider area. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 8, 2008.