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Free nets to ward off Chennai ‘sting squads’

Chennai, Dec. 27: Mohammed Riyaz is relieved he may not have to face the “Chennai super kings”.

No, the city’s resident of 30 years isn’t referring to his IPL warriors but to mosquitoes he describes as “the unchallenged Chennai super kings from 6pm to 6am”.

And this time he has not skipper M.S. Dhoni to thank for but S.S. Duraisamy and his Chennai Municipal Corporation for having decided to supply free mosquito nets to sections deemed most vulnerable to the sting squads.

The plan follows the corporation’s limited success with attempts to get rid of the swarms with traditional steps like fumigation and clean-up drives.

The nets will be supplied to residents who live close to water bodies — two rivers and three canals snake through the city — that have emerged the favourite breeding grounds of the winged devils.

Other beneficiaries of the “free net scheme” include students in government hostels, patients in state hospitals, inmates of old-age homes and ration cardholders who receive free rice. The nets add to Tamil Nadu’s sop parade of free TVs and mixers as part of parties’ pre-poll promises.

The Chennai Corporation, run by the ruling AIADMK, will spend Rs.16.9 crore on the net scheme — 0.5 per cent of its annual budget of around Rs 3,500 crore.

In Calcutta, no stranger to periodic outbreaks of malaria and dengue, the municipal corporation has urged residents to use nets but hasn’t given them free.

In Chennai, 10 lakh nets will be procured initially at a cost of Rs 169 each. “Since prevention is better than cure, we are protecting citizens from malaria and dengue which debilitate the poorest,” said a senior corporation official about the novel intervention.

Not everyone agrees. Former mayor and DMK leader M. Subramaniam saw in the move a tacit admission of the Jayalalithaa-led government’s failure to combat the problem. “Chennai residents dread evenings as they are submerged in swarms of mosquitoes. By handing over free nets, the mayor and his team have admitted the administration’s defeat in fighting mosquitoes.”

But mayor Duraisamy defended the plan, arguing the nets were an “additional layer of defence” alongside other measures that have been ramped up too.

“How otherwise can we explain the drop in malaria cases from over 25,000 in 2005 to less than 5,000 last year? This has happened only due to fumigation, dredging of waterways and a systematic public awareness campaign.”

But many, like Riyaz, questioned the claims and said the swarms had at least quadrupled over the past two years.

“In my 30 years in Chennai, I’ve never been subjected to such a systematic attack by mosquitoes as in the past two years. From 6pm to 6am, they are the unchallenged Chennai super kings,” complained the resident of Triplicane and a potential beneficiary of the net scheme. Triplicane is neighbourhood along the Buckingham Canal, which meanders through Chennai like a dark snake whose underbelly breeds mosquitoes by millions.

Not everyone is unhappy, though. The mosquito menace has spawned an entire industry — electric bats, coils, mats, liquid destroyer, lotions and creams — that has seen grown steadily over the years.

Public health officials swear by the net over other options. “Coils, mats and creams can produce side-effects like allergies and respiratory problems. Also, mosquitoes become immune to them gradually. A mosquito net, if correctly used, will guarantee a trouble-free night of sleep. After all, such nets are part of standard equipment supplied to our army jawans posted in remote locations,” said Col. Krishnan, a retired army doctor.