On 29th August 2017 people were suffering the Monsoon Mayhem out in the open. But, those who were lucky enough to escape the floods reached home to suffer from Media Madness. This gave me a glimpse of what is wrong with news channels in India, particularly English. Motto seems to be - Spread negativity even when citizens are suffering from nature’s wrath. They feel it gives them TRP.
Two biggest English channels work out of Mumbai, so it was but natural that they take the lead in covering the disaster that befell Mumbai. Other channels too covered it with sufficient air-time. The urge to score in TRP fight persuaded the channels, especially the top two to go hammer and tongs against the authorities – both Municipal Corporation and State Government of Maharashtra. However, in an urge to fire up a sense of outrage in citizens channels went overboard. They forgot that they could provide succour to citizens with right and timely information.
While stoic Mumbaikar knows that this near shutting down of life-lines of Mumbai – railways and buses happens atleast once in a season when heavy downpour matches with high tides from the sea on which Mumbai is perched; our TV channels think differently. There was macabre humour when TV anchors wished the citizens to criticise government but suffering citizens still refused to bite the bait. Finally, one exasperated anchor said, “They don’t know the facts!”
Conscientious media must bash up the governments for their failures, but it shouldn’t lose objectivity. What people complain about is lack of forewarning about a natural disaster that is not difficult to foretell with advanced and accurate satellite imagery and quick disaster recovery plans. If people knew of the impending cloud burst, they would have stayed home; recalling July 2005 horrors. Government definitely failed people there. Asking people to stay home after they were already out on the roads told a story of apathy. Why didn’t any channel show weather maps and warn people in the morning when people were leaving for offices or schools? Why didn’t government use its famed digital prowess to send out messages to people to stay home?
A whole lot of big budget schemes were launched after July 2005, including famed BRIMSTOWAD for increasing capacities of water drainage system. This scheme gobbled up 1000s of crores. Only half the drainage work and pumping stations came up till 2016 as per an Indian Express report. All that money went, literally, down the drain. Not even half of the project was completed by Shiv Sena controlled BMC in 11 years. None of the State governments pulled up either Municipal commissioner or the BMC.
Much more painful insult Mumbai citizens hate most is the decades-old drama of yearly ritual of raging debates in newspapers and TVs about incomplete road works, potholes and all that dirty business of not cleaning drains in time. Ironically named Mithi River has seen gobbling up of 100s of crores in its name but it remains a dirty nullah. Maybe one day the TV outrage will make people come out on the roads. Are political parties waiting for such an eventuality?
I have been all over the world including most wet places in South East Asia. I have not seen such horrible pot-holed roads anywhere in the world. And they are supposed to be less developed as compared to India! We make ourselves laughing stock in the world when we discuss this same topic year after year but cannot find anyone to fix up this problem. Our politicians and bureaucrats do fixup contractors and kickbacks it seems. We cannot put fear of God in contractors or the public servants. Is our government and law machinery really that inept?
We, city people know of the Babu-Politician-Contractor nexus. It is an educated city. Is it so difficult to break this nexus even when we have a young dynamic and honest Chief Minister? Or is he helpless against these lobbies?
Herein lies the rub. What we need is a directly elected Mayor who works like a CEO and is answerable to citizens of this hell-hole for ordinary citizens that pass off as a megapolis, financial capital and what not. We need strong local citizen committees at ward level that work with municipal corporators. NGO Loksatta has submitted blueprint for such a possibility within existing framework of laws. But, who is interested in systemic reforms? Cosmetics for silencing people, putting bandages over leakages rather than addressing causes of leakages seem good enough. Neither politicians nor the media goes beyond this. All we enjoy is occasional rage and then go back to new topic. Politicians know this, so they simply weather the temporary rage and go back to sipping their favourite elixir.