2017: The year in review

In Tamil Nadu, a year of troubles and churning

Youngsters stage a rail roko on the Vaigai river bridge near Madurai Railway Junction as part of the jallikattu protests, on January 21, 2017.

Youngsters stage a rail roko on the Vaigai river bridge near Madurai Railway Junction as part of the jallikattu protests, on January 21, 2017.   | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

2017 was a momentous year for Tamil Nadu in many ways. If one were to trace back the trigger for this year’s events, it was probably embedded in the sunset of 2016, in the death of Jayalalithaa, and the conviction and subsequent jailing of her close associate V.K. Sasikala. A trail of events was to follow that would dominate not only the political space, but also have an impact on many aspects of the lives of the people of the State, not necessarily positively, in a way that has seldom happened in the past in Tamil Nadu.

Politically, it was a witches’ cauldron. Many vile things were thrown in. A rebel emerged, was joined by others, but soon, turned and embraced the system, with his followers bringing up the tail. Another was turned into a rebel without any preamble. In an embittered State, a much loved symbol, the two leaves, was hotly contested with multiple factions of an erstwhile Dravidian behemoth fighting over it. A byelection, rescinded once, and held the second time around, added more intrigue to the mix, sullying the waters further by widespread allegations of candidates giving out cash for votes.

The retirement of the DMK’s M. Karunanidhi too, almost coinciding with the passing of Jayalalithaa, left a political vacuum which Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy tried to fill. However, a constant churning fails to leave the establishment at peace. Loyalties swing from one faction to the other at the mere whiff of change of winds, the latest being the victory of sidelined AIADMK leader and Sasikala’s nephew T. T. V. Dinakaran in the R.K. Nagar bypoll. The court verdict absolving the DMK’s former MPs A. Raja and Kanimozhi of charges in the 2G spectrum scam is another event that is likely to have larger ramifications in the years to come.

Socially, this was also a year of protests, crystallising in the jallikattu sit-out on the beach in Chennai. Its surprising vigour, size and longevity prompted many to call it the city’s ‘Arab Spring.’ The protests in the delta region — Kathiramangalam and Neduvasal — followed, as farmers protested ONGC’s exploration of wells in the region, despite the company’s claims. The other issue to snowball into protests was the NEET examination qualification for admission to medical courses, specifically with the suicide of a bright young girl who lost out on a seat. 2017 will be the year the State took on the sand mafia too.

Severe water scarcity in the north, in Chennai, and a severe cyclonic storm in the south, in Kanniyakumari, both wreaked havoc in those areas. As if drama was lacking, two ships collided off the coast of Chennai, allowing several tonnes of oil to spill into the bay waters. High ranking officers were named in what has now come to be called the Gutkha scam, on which investigation is ongoing. Add to this, raids by the Income Tax department across the state, the struggles post-demonetisation and GST levy, and the State’s cup overfloweth.

But 2017 will probably be remembered for the way in which everything, irrespective of which sphere it occupied, was rendered entirely political, recalling what Mao said, “Politics is war without bloodshed.”

AIADMK interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala at the Jayalalithaa memorial before leaving for Bengaluru, in Chennai on February 15, 2017.

AIADMK interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala at the Jayalalithaa memorial before leaving for Bengaluru, in Chennai on February 15, 2017.   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

An ill wind

A key issue after all hell broke loose post the death of Jayalalithaa was the delay in the swearing in of V.K. Sasikala as Chief Minister by the then Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, after the party’s general council elected her in February.

It was a roller-coaster ride for the AIADMK during this year. Its party symbol was frozen following the revolt by CM O. Panneerselvam against Sasikala and her family’s take-over of the party. By the time the party united and got back its symbol, Mr. Panneerselvam, a three-time CM, settled for the Deputy CM’s post.

Despite several denials, allegations that the BJP-led Centre and its leadership were behind the turbulence in the AIADMK continued to dog the government. To make things worse, the R.K. Nagar bypoll indicated that the clout of T.T.V. Dhinakaran would remain a challenge.

Before the DMK’s celebration over the 2G verdict was complete, the humiliating defeat in the bypoll that pushed the party to the third place has given it issues to ponder. The Makkal Nala Kootani or the People’s Welfare Front, which was a platform of smaller parties and was seen as a possible third front, fell apart this year.

While Congress continued to fight factionalism, the BJP seems to be continuing in its efforts to build its base. The State waits as two stars of the film industry dally with politics. It was a challenging year for the Election Commission too which had rescinded the bypoll for R. K. Nagar in April on charges of distribution of money to voters and conducted it in December.

- Dennis S. Jesudasan

Tributes are paid to S. Anitha, who ended her life dejected over not being able to get a MBBS seat, at the Gandhi Market in Tiruchi on September 02, 2017.

Tributes are paid to S. Anitha, who ended her life dejected over not being able to get a MBBS seat, at the Gandhi Market in Tiruchi on September 02, 2017.   | Photo Credit: A_MURALITHARAN

Spitting out the truth

It was a scam that triggered political outrage so much that the Tamil Nadu Assembly was stalled for four days.

The sensational gutkha scam exposed by The Hindu in June this year was a startling revelation of how the banned substance was allowed to be manufactured, stored, transported and sold in the city.

During a surprise raid on the premises of the gutkha manufacturer, the Income Tax department seized incriminating documents that blew the lid off a huge scam involving the State Health Minister and top officials, including some IPS officers.

The position of the State government that the crucial I-T report on the scam never existed was debunked by the then Chief Secretary Ram Mohana Rao who confirmed that it was very much on record and that former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wanted to take action on those involved. The DVAC is investigating the case.

- S. Vijay Kumar

Lock, stock and barrel

For the first time in the history of Chennai, over 1,000 families from 12 slum settlements along water courses and lakes were evicted from their homes of many years. While the relocation itself was painful, taking them far away from their places of work and schools, resettlement became even more tiresome with the evacuees complaining of poor infrastructure at their new housing colonies in the city’s suburbs.

- Aditi R.

Fisherfolk express their grief after the devastation caused by Cyclone Ockhi.

Fisherfolk express their grief after the devastation caused by Cyclone Ockhi.   | Photo Credit: A_SHAIKMOHIDEEN

A devastating cyclone

When Cyclone Ockhi hit the coast on November 30, it turned out to be the last voyage for around 250 fishermen, who had ventured into sea on November 28 hoping to return with a good catch before Christmas. The losses that Ockhi left in its wake ensured that Christmas was neither merry nor the New Year prosperous for many fishermen of Kanniyakumari.

People are giving up hope of their kin returning to shore, even as the Centre has reiterated that search operations will continue till the last fisherman is rescued. On the shore, there was severe damage to crops, houses and infrastructure.

- P. Sudhakar.

Trouble at sea

Rameswaram witnessed a fierce protest by fishermen when the Sri Lankan Navy allegedly shot 21-year-old K. Britjo at sea on the night of March 6. As his body, with a bullet injury, was brought to the shore the next day, a wave of anger swept the island. Refusing to accept the body, hundreds of men, women and children from fishing hamlets assembled and continued the protest for days and nights, wailing and praying. They finally suspended the stir after Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held talks with their leaders.

- D. J. Walter Scott

A mother with her sick child at the fever ward at the Institute of Child Health, Egmore, in Chennai.

A mother with her sick child at the fever ward at the Institute of Child Health, Egmore, in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Buzzed out

The State recorded 23,035 cases of dengue as of December 24 and 63 deaths, the highest in the country. For months on end, the Health Department battled the viral fever spread by the Aedes mosquito, even as anxiety levels rose among residents. Water scarcity in the State had led to residents storing water in containers that were often not properly covered, creating breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. It was also the summer of a ‘mysterious fever’ and thousands were admitted to hospitals, wards were overflowing and outpatient services, even extended, ran full. A Central team visited the State to assess the situation.

Cases only dipped after November, following the rains.

- Zubeda Hamid

Youngsters stage a rail roko on the Vaigai river bridge near Madurai Railway Junction as part of the jallikattu protests, on January 21, 2017.

Youngsters stage a rail roko on the Vaigai river bridge near Madurai Railway Junction as part of the jallikattu protests, on January 21, 2017.   | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

Taking the bull by its horns

It began as a seemingly innocuous protest with a bunch of college students gathering on the Marina, and then snowballed into one of the largest peaceful protests without any leader, ending in both victory and violence. The jallikattu protests on the beach morphed into a rallying point for Tamil pride, rights and culture of the State.

What began as a students movement suddenly brought out people of all ages on to the streets in various districts and to the Marina Beach, the epicentre of the protests in Chennai. An ordinance was passed to conduct jallikattu and was seen as victory, but ended up being marred by violence unleashed on the protesters. The government set up a one-man commission to probe the violence.

- T.K. Rohit

Investigating a death

On the night of February 7, O. Panneerselvam began a revolt against the AIADMK leadership. Possibly, the only enduring result of this revolt was the fulfilling of his demand to set up of an inquiry commission into the death of Jayalalithaa.

Justice A. Arumugasamy began work and issued summons to Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa and nephew Deepak, V.K. Sasikala, and T. T. V. Dhinakaran, senior officials of the State government, and administrators and doctors at Apollo Hospital. Ahead of the R.K. Nagar bypoll in December, disqualified MLA P. Vetrivel released a video of Jayalalithaa at a hospital.

- T.K. Rohit

Women collect water from a handpump at Chintadripet in Chennai on March 21, 2017.

Women collect water from a handpump at Chintadripet in Chennai on March 21, 2017.   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

Drought days

As the State witnessed its worst drought in 140 years, Chennai reeled under a severe water crisis until recent weeks.

With the city’s four primary reservoirs going bone dry after 13 years, Chennai Metrowater looked out for options to boost its water sources. People dug deeper in search of groundwater as piped water supply was drastically reduced. Metrowater cut short its supply and households had to buy water.

- K. Lakshmi

Kausalya, whose husband Shankar was hacked to death in full public view in a case of ‘honour’ killing in March 2016

Kausalya, whose husband Shankar was hacked to death in full public view in a case of ‘honour’ killing in March 2016   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Justice and honour

Mid-December saw the District Sessions Court in Tirupur handing out the death sentence to six persons in the murder of a Dalit youth, sending out a strong message against the practice of honour killing. Dalit youth V. Shankar was murdered in broad daylight by a gang at Udumalpet in Tirupur District on May 13, 2016, when he and his wife, Kausalya, emerged from a shopping complex. Theirs was a love marriage that earned the wrath of the girl's family.

A year and seven months of trial ended with Judge Alamelu Natarajan pronouncing the judgment: Of the 11 accused, eight were convicted and three were acquitted.

- R. Vimal Kumar

Engineers and volunteers work to remove the sludge following the oil spill off the Kamarajar port in Chennai on January 28, 2017.

Engineers and volunteers work to remove the sludge following the oil spill off the Kamarajar port in Chennai on January 28, 2017.   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN

Oily woes

On January 28, reports of the seashore and waves turning black poured in from north Chennai. Two tankers, one leaving the Kamarajar port and another entering it, had collided causing tonnes of oil to spread on the sea and get washed ashore. By evening, the Coast Guard had sent its team of experts to clean up the sludge, a large quantity that had floated to a curve in the coastline near Ramakrishna Puram off Ennore Expressway. The next day hundreds of volunteers drafted from various colleges pitched in, followed by staff from the police, fire services and other departments to physically lift buckets of sludge that was carted off for bioremediation, which is still happening.

It's been almost a year since the incident happened but fishermen still await compensation for the loss of livelihood and the matter is sub judice.

- Deepa H. Ramakrishnan

Tributes are paid to S. Anitha, who ended her life dejected over not being able to get a MBBS seat, at the Gandhi Market in Tiruchi on September 02, 2017.

Tributes are paid to S. Anitha, who ended her life dejected over not being able to get a MBBS seat, at the Gandhi Market in Tiruchi on September 02, 2017.   | Photo Credit: A_MURALITHARAN

Nothing NEET about this

The suicide of Dalit girl S. Anitha, apparently dejected over her failure to clear NEET to secure a MBBS seat, on September 1 became the rallying point for anti-NEET protests in the State.

The daughter of a daily wage labourer T. Shanmugam of Kuzhumur in Ariyalur district, the 17-year-old had earlier impleaded herself as one of the respondents in a case filed in the Supreme Court challenging NEET. She had scored 1,176 out of 1,200 marks in Class XII, but, with scarcely any preparation, she could manage a score of just 86 out of 720 in NEET.

The State government drew flak for giving false hopes to students by claiming that exemption from NEET was imminent. Anitha’s death triggered strong reactions from social activists and political parties, who had been clamouring for Presidential assent to the two Bills passed in the State Assembly that sought exemption for the State from the ambit of NEET.

As the furore died down, the State School Education department began coaching classes to prepare students for NEET.

- C. Jaishankar

Farmers stage a protest against the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal in Pudukkottai District on March 02, 2017

Farmers stage a protest against the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal in Pudukkottai District on March 02, 2017   | Photo Credit: M_Moorthy

Drilling in the delta

Attempts to expand hydrocarbon projects at Kadiramangalam village in Thanjavur district and Neduvasal in Pudukkottai district and the dogged opposition of the farmers to the projects dominated the headlines in the delta.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation had been exploring oil and natural gas in the delta for more than four decades now and has repeatedly claimed the projects did not have an impact on agriculture or the environment. ONGC has also maintained that it did not intend to tap shale gas or methane. Locals, however, believe that ONGC explorations have resulted in the rapid depletion of groundwater, as well as the pollution of sub-surface water and fertile soil.

- L. Renganathan

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 11:17:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-year-of-troubles-and-churning/article22337972.ece

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