The Metro, Laureates and Ganga Talao Task Force

The past two weeks have been witness to three events which each impacts national life in different ways, with implications for our future

The past two weeks have been witness to three events which each impacts national life in different ways, with implications for our future that are far from being negligible.

We start with the so-called Metro Express – so-called because there are divided opinions about whether it is going to be more tramway that metro, despite which the term Metro express is being maintained by the authorities, with no clarifications thereto having been officially advanced either by them. After a relatively low profile for the launching of the project, a big chunk of the works has got under way at the Promenade Roland Armand a few days ago, amidst a chorus of protests from civil society groups which had articulated their concerns before. There is even a suggestion by well-known activist Jack Bizlall that a case must be entered in court and the Indian government, which is financing the project substantially, be informed of the stand of civil society.

The voices of protest notwithstanding, the government has put its foot down on the decision to go ahead with the building of what it clearly feels is a ‘light’ transport system that will – or it hopes will – ease the woes of the travelling public by relieving traffic congestion, especially during peak hours. There is also an expectation that people will abandon their vehicles and opt for the metro, which presupposes a radical change of behaviour that is not guaranteed a priori for many reasons: convenience, time of travel to destination, affordability of the cost of ticket among others. Nevertheless, since the situation is now a given, as the construction rolls on, it goes without saying that there will be disruptions of varying degrees due to diversions of traffic, power interruptions, change in the landscape, impact in residential zones from noise, waste, debris and so on.

The worst-case scenario is that all these ongoing disturbances so irritate those immediately concerned by the proximity of the works and that affect the workplace with direct, negative implications for employees that the rumble of protests may morph into an avalanche that causes a major dislocation of normal life. That will be very serious indeed, as people have a very low tolerance for forcible derangements in their social life. No doubt the task force that has recently met under the chairmanship of VPM Ivan Collendavelloo is aware of these negative possibilities. One must therefore hope for a best case scenario, under the vigilant umbrella of the task force, of minimal disturbance to the public. The onus of responsibility therefore falls squarely on the authorities to make sure that the smoothness of this paradigmatic transition in national life, and more so as this is a flagship project on which the current regime is pinning its biggest hope for a comeback at the next polls due in 2019.

The other major happening is one we are used to annually shortly after the beginning of the school year, namely the announcement of the laureates. We cannot but rejoice for the success of the candidates, a testimony of their hard work and perseverance, and those who make it to the top undoubtedly deserve their reward. At the same time, though, we cannot help questioning whether this particular system of State-funded scholarships which was established in colonial times to suit the requirements the British administration ought to be continued with.

Several aspects of this system have been debated over the years, and the essence is captured in last week’s interview in this paper of a career educationist with both local and international experience, Teeluck Bhuwanee. He underlined that ‘the state-funded scholarships’ aim was to provide the best university education for the locals to return home and get the highest paid jobs in the civil service’, then goes on to say: ‘We need to ask the question: what is the rationale behind the state-funded scholarships, when we will not be in a position to provide the best jobs to those we sponsor? To promote more effort in our young school leavers? To reward those who have done very well? To invest in our best and brightest? In all these cases, the answer is the present laureate scheme is far from achieving any of these’.

If that is the case, clearly this scheme needs revisiting afresh because as our interviewee points out, ‘in the early 2000s, when I was Registrar of the University of Technology (UTM), committees were set up by TEC to enquire into the system and many proposals were made (such as providing financial incentives, etc). Much progress had been made but the recommendations were never implemented for political reasons’.

Who will bell the cat, do a bit of lateral thinking and get us out of a system that benefit only a few – albeit deserving – and devise a new scheme that will rope in a larger number of equally deserving students? This has become almost an imperative because not only do many laureates not come back – and therefore are a gain for other countries – but we do need our talents here as the authorities never keep repeating when the laureates are announced. Besides, the laureate scheme was established at a time when there were practically no facilities for tertiary education locally.

Now that this is no longer the case, the situation surely needs to be reviewed, with a leeway allowed for those who may still wish to study abroad provided they are willing to top up the government scholarship by their own means. This is just one suggestion, the idea being that the quantum earmarked by the government to be spread so as to cover a larger number of students, especially with an eye on choice of studies that will meet the criteria of local employability. The bottom line is that the country needs to overhaul the existing system so that a larger section of the student population benefits.

And finally we come to the festival of Maha Shivaratri, which this year in particular has been marked by an ugly and unacceptable politicking which does not do honour to the country. The sociocultural organisations must also share the responsibility, and blame, for this state of affairs. How many official functions can, or should a Prime Minister attend? We can well understand that the current PM has a pressing image-building issue to address and fulfil. But if each organization decides to invite him as chief guest, whether or not he is requested to talk or not, does not that take him away from attending to pressing national affairs? Do the organizers factor this into their personal calculations, as they vie for attention and seek to take advantage for themselves – for what else could be their persistence and insistence on such political presence?

On the other hand, the unfortunate incident involving the Mangal Mahadev Shakti Swarooopa Assosiation, whereby the tent it had already put up to conduct prayers was ordered to be pulled down because “no permission had been sought from the Task Force” raises the important issue of whether it is the State that will dictate to religious entities when and where to hold ceremonies, as used to be the case in colonial times. After hard struggles that returned this right to where it belonged, namely to the people and their religious bodies, will we now be forced to swallow a diktat by the neo-colonialists, namely the politicians and their cronies who have taken over from the bravehearts who fought to obtain our freedom of choice, including autonomy in our religious matters? If that be the case, one wonders whether such political interference will apply to all religious groups indiscriminately.

The people will have to decide whether they are prepared to put up with such nonsense.


* Published in print edition on 16 February 2018

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