1913 is Prime Number for all people on earth, not for Chennai anymore. The number has lost its prime importance in the civic consciousness of Chennai. 1913 seems to have vanished from the memory of around 65 lakh residents in the 426 sq km of the city. The number of residents reporting civic problems on Chennai Corporation helpline 1913 has reduced considerably in January. Many of the zones reported only one complaint a day through 1913 in January. This is in sharp contrast to the hundreds of complaints made last year. Therefore the civic body is blissfully unaware of the hardship faced by residents, who have inexplicably reported “the helpline is busy” most of the time in the past few days. Even after money gets deducted from the account, the residents’ efforts to talk to employees at 1913 go in vain. This has gradually led to loss of faith in the ability of the civic body to solve civic problems and has reflected in the dwindling number of complaints registered recently.

Ripon Buildings came into existence in the year 1913. This year, the Chennai Corporation is gearing up for a celebration of the 100th year of the heritage structure that has become a symbol of Local Administration in the nation. In fact, the four digits of 1913 have collectively begun to represent the civic conscience of Chennai in the past few years.

The helpline was launched in 2008 for people to register their complaints regarding civic amenities. The civic body claimed that the four-digit number was easier to remember compared to eight-digit number. It bears significance for Chennai as Ripon Building, the Corporation’s headquarters, was inaugurated in 1913.

According to news reports in 2008, over ten percent of the complaints received by the helpline were civic issues handled by other agencies such as Metrowater.

One of the reports in 2008 read: “Since its launch, the civic agency has received 1,560 complaints of which 1,209 pertain to the Corporation alone. The other complaints pertain to issues concerning other agencies such as Chennai Metrowater. Such complaints were forwarded by the Chennai Corporation to the agencies concerned.” Now, employees at 1913 refuse to provide similar assistance to residents who seek help on civic issues such as water supply or drainage.

The civic body also had provision for SMS (text message) and at least 90 per cent of the cases, action was being taken and response sent to the people who made the complaints in 2008.

The civic body, in 2008, organised a campaign to popularise 1913 and the SMS helpline for complaints related to civic infrastructure, including streetlights, garbage clearance, roads and stormwater drains. This led to the rise of 1913 to prime importance in the minds of residents. However, the decline started in the recent years. Last May, the Chennai Corporation suspended four of its officials for their alleged failure to pass on information pertaining to the civic complaints made through its helpline 1913.

The civic body’s records show that in the period between October 2011 and May 2012, a total of 7,660 complaints were registered by residents through the 1913. But according to the officials, the number of such complaints received at the 15 zones and departments was only 2,490. This discrepancy was said to have been because of the failure of the four-member team in charge of 1913 and the contract workers associated with the helpline. Expectation soared after the action against such erring officials last year; but condition has deteriorated now. It cannot deteriorate any further. It should only improve.

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