Chennai, Nov. 11: From digital divide to the slushy reality of rain-drenched roads.
Barely an hour after inaugurating an international conference on information technology, chief minister Jayalalithaa today stepped on to the soggy streets of the capital, particularly the north of the city, where floods had corroded most of the bitumen-laid roads leaving behind gaping potholes.
Manholes oozed dirty brown water, revealing the damage the heavy rains after more than two years had caused to the sewer lines in the absence of an effective drainage system. The lashing northeast monsoon has already claimed 47 lives throughout Tamil Nadu.
As her motorcade of ministers and officials drove through the narrow, slippery streets, Jayalalithaa saw how the civic infrastructure had all but collapsed. If only the rains had continued for another two days, the consequences would have been unimaginable, an official told accompanying reporters.
Though the waist-deep water has started receding at many places, women came out of their homes in large numbers, hoping Amma’s visit would change things in a day.
“We are unable to move anywhere, no street lights for the past several days, drinking water is unsafe and there is fear of a cholera outbreak, while our children are not able to go to school as no buses can ply on such slushy roads,” complained an elderly lady.
“We want some quick action, not just to see Amma’s convoy,” remarked another, angered by the apathy of local officials and councillors.
Jayalalithaa stopped several times to reassure the people and also received a few petitions. At some places, she gave on-the-spot instructions to officials to start constructions such as the Rs 75-crore road-bridge at Vysarpadi. Among the officials who accompanied Jayalalithaa were finance secretary N. Narayanan and police commissioner K. Vijayakumar.
Just a few hours before Jayalalithaa’s visit, local MLAs had tried to fill up potholes with huge blocks of bitumen and red sand. But the chief minister was not impressed.
The reeking roads that had exposed Chennai’s civic infrastructure were too sharp a contrast to the ambience of just an hour ago when she inaugurated the conference on “Information Technology and Software in Indian and Asian Development”. The Centre and the state government have organised it jointly with assistance from the Paris-based OECD Development Centre.
Quoting from IT guru Douglas Holmes’ book “eGov-eBusiness Strategies for Government, Jayalalithaa said while the “developed world talks about the digital divide, the developing world wants to hear about the digital dividends”. Information technology should not cause “social exclusion” but be an instrument of “social inclusion”, she added.
The ADMK chief referred to her government’s experiment to “bridge the urban-rural digital divide” with a small pilot project in Madurai district to make computers and Internet connection a sustainable means of income generation in rural areas.