Mamata Banerjee, the mercurial politician from West Bengal who is now the Chief Minister of the state, appears intent on making her mark in her new position. Within weeks of assuming office she has met with prominent industrialists and potential investors, has hectored government doctors and public health officials about improving the delivery of health care services in the state and has granted a sympathetic ear to the complaints of local police about inadequate housing. Several of these initiatives are worthy of being lauded.
However, some of her pronouncements, though well-meaning, sound a bit quixotic. Among other matters, she has promised to construct a massive Ferris wheel on the banks of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges that flows through the city. This Ferris wheel apparently will be modelled on the London Eye, a major tourist attraction in the United Kingdom. The plan to build a Ferris wheel is part and parcel of a larger redevelopment plan for the riverfront to make it resemble tonier sections of the Thames. Also, in an attempt to burnish the city's image she has promised to transform the city's zoological gardens along the lines of London's Regent's Park.
There’s little question that after the abject neglect of the city's infrastructure over the past 35 years of Communist misrule it could use a makeover. However, one wonders if the beautification of the riverfront and the refurbishment of the zoo should be the principal priorities of the chief minister. Should she not deal with the more compelling, if mundane, matters such as ensuring uninterrupted electricity and working sewage facilities to the hapless population of much of this city of 13 million? These civic problems, among others, that have come to besiege Calcutta have made it synonymous with the notion of Third World urban blight. While her energy, drive and an effort to re-brand Calcutta are admirable, perhaps some attention to less glamorous, but more urgent matters, is in order.