Opinion: Environment to state autonomy, what MK Stalin must do as Chief Minister (Part II)

Opinion: Environment to state autonomy, what MK Stalin must do as Chief Minister (Part II)
Read: Opinion: What Chief Minister MK Stalin must do (Part I) What should MK Stalin’s legacy be now that the DMK has been voted into power? If former Chief Minister and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran’s legacy is laying the foundations for a welfare state and turning the state into a premier destination for professional education and health services, Stalin’s father M Karunanidhi’s and Jayalalithaa’s legacy was turning the state into a sought-after investment destination. Stalin’s aim shall be to deliver an efficient and clean administration. This of course should be a given. But as for legacy, in addition to creating jobs and investments, Stalin may want to go down in history as the environmental Chief Minister of India. The DMK is perhaps the only party with an environmental wing. It did well by fielding its environmental wing secretary in these Assembly elections.  Environment Firstly, Tamil Nadu should be the first state to announce that it will cut carbon emissions by at least a third by 2030, compared with 1990 levels and aim for the ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2050. Tax holidays for green energy investors and users should be made absolute even as we discourage fossil fuel use. Secondly, a heavyweight should be named for the ministry.  In the future the Environment Ministry would be the ministry that would rank on par with critical portfolios such as Home, Finance, Industry and Public Works. The ministry should work very closely with environmental groups. It could consider a standing committee of civil society organizations and environmental experts with advisory roles. A directorate for water bodies led by a dynamic secretary level officer should be considered as part of the ministry.  The Chief Minister might wish to turn some of the more heinous environmental offences as criminal and constitute a special court where such water body encroachments will be tried and water bodies restored at the offender’s expense where possible. In 2018, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG)’s report found that a substantial percentage of encroachments were on water bodies.  A parliamentary committee report on 12 August 2016 on ’Disaster in Chennai and Consequent Flooding’ said:  The Committee feels that the State Government should check mafia involved in illegal construction for business and usurping water bodies for their real estate business. The flood channels and riverbed should be cleared as soon as possible by removing illegal/ unauthorized constructions… However, the Committee is of the view that the process of removing encroachment should be a balanced one as it has human and social consequences. There should be proper blue print and planning for rehabilitating and resettling those who are living on encroached settlements before removing encroachment. The AIADMK government has already drafted a bill that would turn these encroachments criminal. The DMK government should pass this legislation as the first order of business. The encroachers are not just the hut dwellers, the poor or the land mafia; in some cases people of influence and ‘standing’ in society and in the league of billionaires.  Rainwater harvesting should become mandatory and major not just in Chennai but in all major cities.  Waste recycling, power from waste from the Kodungaiyur dumpyard and other places, moving towards a carbon reduced footprint through alternate sources of energy and sustainable development, inviting multinationals and corporates to set up shop in green energy, strictly enforcing the ban on single waste plastic are some of the other steps that the new Chief Minister should consider. In all this, he should partner with civil society, environmental groups and experts. The Cooum river cleanup, which he had attempted as the Deputy Chief Minister, should be resumed in a major way and water navigation be considered. The Chief Minister could consider an environmental tax with emphasis on the major polluters, users of energy and creation of waste. These apolitical measures are bound to be enthusiastically welcomed by all.  Minister for Cleanliness If Bhutan can have a minister for happiness, Stalin can consider a minister for cleanliness. Chennai can easily be cleaner and on par with some of its cleaner Indian cities. Somehow despite the adage ‘Even if it is porridge, drink it after a bath; even if it is tattered, wear it after washing,’ public places are an eyesore. The minister could inculcate a sense of cleanliness and in a serious way involve school and college children in clean ups. Forty years ago, people would have laughed at the idea of a Minister of Environment or a Minister for Information Technology. Prior to 1962, food was not a separate ministry in Tamil Nadu and prior to 1996 there was no Ministry for Tamil Culture and Development. We need to change with the times. Religion It will serve the DMK well if it stays clear of religious controversies. In this Stalin should look up to Anna who while ordering the removal of religious symbols and gods from the Secretariat, declared a holiday for Ganesh Chathurthi. Stalin might in the same vein consider building consensus with religious leaders to remove places of worship from pavements and from the middle of the roads. An ordinance to give teeth to the Corporation’s efforts in Chennai and elsewhere may be in order.   Radicals from either side need each other for the other’s existence and growth. Stalin should mercilessly deal with radicals.  Social Security The DMK manifesto promises several welfare measures. But the Chief Minister should consider introducing a social insurance scheme for the unorganized sector where their contributions with support from their employers would be matched by the state. More than a million workers are estimated to be part of the unorganized labour force from domestic workers to auto, taxi, and lorry drivers.  Legislative Council Karunanidhi’s efforts to reestablish the Legislative Council, surprisingly did not bear fruit even though the DMK was part of the ruling coalition at the Centre. Stalin should consider reviving the Council. It might cost a few hundred crores and bring up a second tier of legislative process that any Chief Minister would wish to avoid, but on balance, the Council will help Stalin breathe easy as a party head. The Council could be a place to park some seniors who cannot otherwise be accommodated as the party is going through a generational shift. But as Anna had remarked, the Council is akin to the saucer where a hot cup of tea is left to cool before one can sip it. It is the house of the elders and a forum where people who are not cut out for the rough and rigour of politics could be brought in and their wisdom and expertise tapped. It has representation from teachers and graduates. It will give the Chief Minister the flexibility to bring in talent from the outside. Professional education Stalin might want to form a committee headed by reputed educationists to streamline the professional and higher education in the state. As educationist Anandakrishnan observed, not more than a 100 of the 500 engineering colleges in the state will pass scrutiny. These colleges will have to be rationalised and if need be, shutdown. The same goes with medical and dental colleges. Quality and not quantity should be the aim. Besides, a serious review of the way private colleges charge capitation fees under myriad ways should be looked at. Stalin would have the gratitude of thousands of parents. Governance, corruption and party workers Rajaji kept away party workers from the corridors of power. Anna tried to do this to some extent. Stalin should keep a close watch on the functionaries and district secretaries who have shown in the past that they could become an alternate power structure.  Corruption has become a way of life in India, normalised to the point where it is almost considered a part of culture. E-governance has reduced corruption to some extent in the day-to-day affairs such as the issuance of birth certificates etc. However, corruption is manifest in registration offices, transport offices, police, and state tax authorities. Stalin must attempt both top down and bottom-up approaches.  Like tatkal and speed delivery these offices can officially come up with certain rates for expeditious processing and delivery. Most of the public would be happy to pay these than bribe the registrars, revenue officials and the countless touts. To make it easier for those who are inured to bribes, Stalin can even consider giving the staff a percentage of the proceeds collected legally as incentive in proportion to the efficiency of work.  An ombudsman called makkal naduvar /needhipathi or people's judge of the highest integrity and standing and appointed in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition should have the authority to inquire anyone including the Chief Minister. The DMK manifesto promises telecast of Assembly proceedings. No time should be lost on making this happen. An Assembly website that gives the income and assets of all legislators along with their next of kin and updated every year will greatly aid people to decide for themselves about their legislators. Those who have opted for public life should not value privacy beyond a point especially when it comes to integrity. Also, the DMK government may want to pass a law mandating that legislators must spend half the time in their constituencies. The website should also show the requests received by the legislator and how it was disposed.  Fight against Hindi imposition The terrain has greatly changed in the battle against Hindi. It is a losing battle and Tamil Nadu is the last column that is to be felled. People manning the security counters at multi-tier complexes are from either the northern parts of the country or Nepal. Increasingly, in prosperous Tamil Nadu, the plumber, the carpenter, the electrician, the mason are all from the north. Hindi has come into our living rooms and bedrooms. While any organic spread of Hindi should be welcome the question remains as to what is happening to our youth who are shy of opting for vocational education.   The wall has been breached both deliberately and otherwise. In the last 30 years the presence of the industrial and central police forces in central establishments such as airports and trains, with orders being shouted in Hindi has become ubiquitous. Hindi is everywhere: in FM stations, in advertisements, in the staff posted to banks and other central establishments.  Like Anna was forced to announce that he will not accept the National Cadet Corps if the command words were not changed to English from Hindi, Stalin should make it clear that he will not accept central staff who as a minimum do not speak in English. It is painful to see that even in the Tamil heartland of Madurai, at the airport, the police personnel command poor villagers in Hindi. Tongue-in-cheek, the Chief Minister may offer Tamil classes for these staff at state government expense calling out the three-language formula bluff of the Union government.  State autonomy On the question of more powers for the states, Stalin should take the initiative of building consensus for a Chief Ministers’ meet on the issue. The least the Chief Ministers can do is to make the Inter-State Council a body of consultations and consensual decision making. Can he also build consensus to bring education back to the state list? These will be a tall order. Social justice and reservations It is time Dravidian parties go in for some deep introspection on social justice and reservations. How do we explain the presence of caste outfits in a state that prides itself as the most forward looking when it comes to dismantling caste? Already there are those going back to the regressive practice of adding caste to their names in the deep south.  The more one panders to these caste elements, the more difficult it would be to erase caste. Karunanidhi after an all-party consensus, dropped the practice of naming transport corporations and districts after leaders who were celebrated mostly by their community. Stalin should consider saying enough is enough for these endless caste demands.  But he must build consensus and bring even the principal rival - AIADMK into his fold. The party appears to be already reaping the punishment for its shortsighted concession in northern Tamil Nadu on the 10.5% Vanniyar reservation. So, let the status quo stand. No more atomizing society.  Also, the Dravidian parties need to reflect carefully on their plank of social justice. Firstly, how long is this prop required? Has it reached the neediest? The resurgence of caste parties from the 1980s is a clear example that there are aggrieved constituencies and the Dravidian movement has failed to be more inclusive. Targeted social justice schemes and programs will undercut these parties. Creamy layer would alleviate a part of the conundrum. Stalin should also reconsider the DMK’s opposition to economic criteria as a basis. The DMK is the only party that is against it. Why should it be? Its founder leader’s sense of equity and egalitarianism saw him offering free education up to the pre-university level to all including the forward caste families with less than Rs 1,500 annual income. Describing the gesture as an ‘innovation’ and ‘revolution’, Anna said they were considered ‘communalists’ and this would have not been expected of them.   But Stalin is at a time when he has to do more and do it from within. The Dravidian parties are often accused of being middling community parties and to some extent this criticism is valid. The DMK has evolved making room for a woman (Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan) and a Dalit (A Raja) as Deputy General Secretaries. But what about the districts and sub-districts? Of the district secretaries how many are women or Dalits? These are nettlesome issues and require time, patience and a shift in mindset to be more accommodative. Stalin can begin this change using the abundant goodwill he enjoys slowly but steadily.  Party of the poor and the have-nots The DMK once prided itself as the party of the commoner and have-nots. Clearly this is not the case anymore. Its rival AIADMK is much more inclusive in its patronage and lifting its last worker. The DMK can emulate it. A worker does not have to remain a worker till the end. As Anna said the party of the modest does not have to remain so. But the last worker should be happy that the party has not forgotten him and has helped him move up the social ladder.  Dynastic politics Lastly, the issue of family politics is for the party cadres to judge. History will write its own judgement later. However, as much as it is a phenomenon of India’s politics, there is no denying the elephant in the room.  Kamaraj, Anna, MGR and Jayalalithaa had no biological offspring and therefore had no issues. Jayalalithaa showed that one does not have to be biologically related for acts of omissions and commissions. One area where Stalin may not wish to emulate his father is the tolerance Karunanidhi had for the level of involvement of the family in his governance. So long as the Chief Minister can deal with this issue dispassionately there is nothing that stops him from reaching greater heights. We wish him and Tamil Nadu the best. R Kannan is with the political and mediation group with the United Nations in Somalia. He is also the biographer of Chief Ministers Anna and MGR.

Share Tweet Send
0 Comments
Loading...