When Chennai dried up
Chennai suffered one of its worst droughts summer of 2019. With a deficit in rainfall, groundwater levels sinking, and the dry beds in the major reservoirs showing up, it became one of the first Indian cities to run dry.
As taps stopped flowing, tankers ruled the roost and people sometimes waited for a month to get a load of water. Sinking borewells became the city’s top activity. Chennai Metrowater tapped every possible source, including agricultural wells and abandoned quarries, even water from Jolarpet, Vellore, through train. This crisis gained notoriety internationally too with social media mentions by Leonardo DiCaprio and U.S.Senator Bernie Sanders.
Back On Track: Vande Bharat
A high profile railway event in 2019 was the inaugural of Train18, touted as a ‘Make in India’ product, by Prime Minister Modi. But the high speed train, manufactured by the Chennai-based Integral Coach Factory ran into controversies soon after its launch. Inter-departmental battles within the Railways soon brought manufacturing to a grinding halt. Amid allegations of procedural flaws, the Vigilance Directorate launched a probe; tenders were withdrawn, and officials transferred out.
The issue seems to have been resolved late 2019, with the Ministry of Railways granting the project to ICF by ordering the manufacture of 45 rakes for Vande Bharat Express.
(S. Vijay Kumar)
A train for Anna Salai
2019 turned out to be a huge milestone year for the Chennai Metro Rail, when the full phase I project spanning 45 km of the city was up and running. The opening of the stretch from AG-DMS to Washermanpet via Chennai Central finally made it a viable public transport option for more residents in the city.
The number 9
Tamil Nadu got the nod from the Centre to establish nine new medical colleges under a scheme in which the Centre will bear 60 % of the funding, and the State, 40 %. This is a big step towards the State government’s aim to establish one medical college in every district. The new colleges will coming up in Tiruppur, The Nilgiris, Ramanathapuram, Namakkal, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, Krishnagiri, Nagapattinam and Tiruvallur. With this, the total number of government medical colleges in TN goes up to 33.
(Serena Josephine M.)
The big con-test
The largest state-level controversy in the state last year was the NEET impersonation case. In September 2019, an anonymous email to the dean of Government Theni Medical College flagged that a student had got admission into the college using an impersonator to write the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). Subsequent police investigation revealed that a handful of students had gained admission to MBBS in government and private medical colleges by engaging impersonators. So far, 12 persons, including seven students and their parents, and an intermediary in the case, have been arrested. The CB CID is still investigating the case.
(Serena Josphine M.)
The kolam way of protest
Tamil Nadu kept up the momentum of the anti-CAA protests without violence and, in fact gave it a popular cultural dimension with the kolams.
Following the detention of few women who drew anti-CAA kolams in Chennai, opposition parties followed suit in solidarity. The protests by colleges, and public rallies held across the state attracted huge crowds which, unlike some north Indian states, have managed to remain peaceful.
(Dennis S. Jesudasan)
Look! Xi’s in town
Mamallapuram hosted the most important event in India’s diplomacy during 2019. Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Chennai in October, to take part in the informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The well-planned and meticulously-executed summit in the historic coastal town is arguably a case study as to how states can play their part in the country’s diplomacy. Mr. Modi’s decision to wear the traditional veshti, during the leaders’ tour to the iconic ancient monuments, was naturally among the highlights.
The summit gave a new lease of life to Mamallapuram, which was not maintained adequately, despite housing the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With the PM’s special interest, and the publicity that the visit received globally, efforts are now on to develop the tourist town even after the summit.
(Dennis S. Jesudasan)
2019 brought huge relief for farmers who were opposed to the Salem-Chennai green corridor project which they believe would grab their farm lands, after the Madras High Court quashed the land acquisition proceedings in April.
The festive spirit during this Deepavali was dampened after a toddler fell into an abandoned borewell at Nadukattupatti near Manapparai in Tiruchi district on October 25. The state went into mourning after an 80-hour long effort to rescue two-year-old Sujith Wilson, proved to be in vain.
An array of experts and government agencies made countless rescue attempts using various contraptions and equipment. After all such attempts failed, the State and National Disaster Response Force led a mission to dig an adjacent passage through the rocky using a massive drilling rig to reach the boy. Although this went on for over 36 hours, NDRF and SDRF officials decided to lift the boy up directly from the abandoned borewell at around 1.30 a.m. on October 29, after a foul smell started emanating, indicating he may not be alive. Sujith’s “highly decomposed and dismembered” body was brought out at 2.30 a.m.
Trouble next door
The turf tussle between Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy played out on the ground, in courtrooms and, even raged on Twitter, through 2019.
Ms. Bedi’s constant “championing of the public cause”, convening parallel meetings with ranking officials and thwarting Cabinet decisions of the Government, such as distributing rice in lieu of cash to ration card-holders or appointment of State Election Commissioner—in both instances the Ministry of Home Affairs endorsed the LG’s stand—have so provoked Mr. Narayanasamy that unusually colourful language has crept into his tirades of late. He has also threatened to sue Ms. Bedi for contempt for interfering in the day-to-day functioning of the Government in spite of an April Madras High Court ruling curtailing the Administrar’s bounds of power. And, he capped off his battles, which had begun with an unprecedented day-night dharna outside the Raj Nivas in February, by submitting a memorandum in December to the visiting President Ram Nath Kovind seeking Ms. Bedi’s recall.
Behold, Athi Varadar!
The usually quiet temple town of Kancheepuram witnessed the once-in-40-years Athivaradhar festival in July – August when over a crore devotees visited the Sri Devarajaswamy temple to catch a glimpse of the wooden idol of Athivaradhar brought out from the Ananthasaras tank. The idol was kept in sayana kolam (lying posture) and nindra kolam (standing posture) during the festival when VIPs and VVIPs too flocked to the town. As the number of devotees to the temple kept increasing by the day, the district administration, Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments and police had to make longer queues and create more facilities including toilets and provision of food and water. The crowds were overwhelming and laxity in crowd control measures led to deaths and injuries for devotees. There was also a demand for allowing the idol to be kept for darshan for another 48 days but the High Court struck it down and on the last day the idol was ceremoniously restored to its chamber inside the temple tank.
(Deepa H. Ramakrishnan)
GIM 2 – an outreach exercise
In 2019, Tamil Nadu government hosted the second edition of the Global Investors Meet (GIM), one of the pet projects of late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Despite initial scepticism about this effort, it turned out more MoUs were signed than during the first edition of GIM in 2015. The government signed 304 MoUs and agreements entailing investments to the tune of Rs. 3,00,431 crore. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said these, in the next few years, will provide job opportunities to over 10 lakh people across the state. A total of 12,360 MoUs were signed in the MSME sector which has attracted over Rs 32,206 crore.
A face off between a police officer and the government defined the operations of the Idol Wing in 2019. Special officer A.G.Pon Manickavel was engaged in battles with a government that was opposed to his continuation in the post.
But there were high profile repatriation events too, particularly the Natrajar idol of Kallidaikurichi, stolen in 1982, whichwas brought back in September from Australia. Former Commissioner of the HR & CE M. Veera Shanmuga Moni was arrested in a case related to misappropriation of funds and gold collected towards the renovation of the Kanchipuram temple. Police also arrested an Indian-origin French woman who was allegedly part of a gang that had been illegally running stolen antique idols and artefacts for several years. Mr. Manickavel had to exit from the helm of affairs after his term expired year end, and the High Court directed him to hand over all files pertaining to the Idol Wing to his successors.
Catch ‘em young gone wrong
In an announcement that drew criticism from several quarters, the School Education Department declared that students of classes 5 and 8 will have to write public exams at the end of the academic year in April 2020. While the state announced that no student would be failed for the first three years, students who take up the state board stream in Tamil Nadu now will still have to face the pressure of writing up five public exams – in classes 5, 8, 10,11, and 12.
8- year hitch: Local body polls
The local body polls were held after a gap of 8 years, but only for the rural local bodies, amidst controversy. After a long legal battle and delimitation process, the polls were announced, but only for 27 districts after the DMK approached the courts seeking a stay on conduct of elections in the newly-created districts. With the Supreme Court clearing the decks, the polls were held in two phases for district panchayats, district panchayat unions, and village panchayats. Both the phases saw brisk polling, and the DMK overtook the ruling party. Poll watchers say one cannot ignore what this may portend for the Assembly polls due in 2021.
(T. K. Rohit)
Out of ruins, an ancient civilisation
Keeladi’s archaeological sites were a revelation in 2019 too. The findings from turned the spotlight on the State and its ancient history. Findings based on samples from the site, placed the cultural deposits unearthed at the site to a period between 6th Century BCE and 1st Century CE. Tamizhi scripts inscribed on some of the artefacts also pointed to a civilisation that was literate or learnt the art of writing as early as 6th Century BCE. History enthusiasts wait eagerly for the next round of revelations as digging will recommence in Keeladi soon.
A matter of justice
On September 6, the then Chief Justice of Madras High Court Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani tendered her resignation after the Supreme Court collegium decided to transfer her to the High Court of Meghalaya. Lawyers from Tamil Nadu as well as her home State Maharashtra protested against the collegium’s decision, claiming the move to transfer her to a relatively smaller High Court, appeared to be “punitive” action. The outrage forced the Supreme Court to take the unprecedented step of issuing a statement explaining that reasons for transfer of judges were not generally disclosed in the interest of the institution but the collegium would not hesitate to disclose them if a need arose.
Subsequently, the President appointed Justice Vineet Kothari as the Acting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court until the incumbent Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi assumed office on November 11.
(Mohamed S. Imranullah)
The big picture
The results of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the first that the State faced without its two towering leaders, M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, saw a virtual repeat of the 2004 parliament elections. Then, the AIADMK saw a washout. But, this time, it managed a solitary seat, which was won by P. Raveendranath Kumar, the son of Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, in Theni, regarded as the party’s traditional bastion. The anti-Modi narrative, adopted by the Opposition, was the critical factor that tilted the scale in its favour.
Apart from losing very badly, the AIADMK’s vote share had plummeted to around 18%, the lowest since 1996. On the other hand, the DMK’s tally rose to about 32.8%, the highest in the last 40 odd years. There were others in the electoral fray such as T.T.V. Dhinakaran, Kamal Hassan and Seeman. All the three did not make any huge impact, each polling about 4% to 5% of votes.
A badge for governance
For a political establishment that has been yearning for recognition, the publication of findings of the Centre’s good governance index in the last week of December came as a morale booster. Tamil Nadu was ranked first in the composite index and out of nine sectors, it finished on top. Even though the State secured the 14th rank in the sector of commerce and industries and 9th rank in agriculture was widely commented upon, what went apparently unnoticed was that no other State got the first rank in two sectors.
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