Thursday, March 25, 2010

The quality of Mercy is not strained


In her eventful five-year stint as Mayor, which ends in September, Mercy Williams has been proud of her achievements, even as she has been hurt by the media criticism

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every morning Kochi Mayor Mercy Williams sets out with her husband to attend Mass, usually at the St. Francis Assisi church, near Marine Drive. But along the way she does a round of the city.

“I want to see whether there is any garbage lying around,” she says. When she notices something, she will note the time and the place. After Mass, when she returns home, she will call up the Health Inspector and inform him.

“The city should be cleared of all garbage,” says Mercy. “There are some areas which are overlooked by the inspectors.”

Thereafter, Mercy sits with her husband and reads several newspapers. “Invariably, there will be some reports about the Cochin Corporation,” she says. Mercy has mixed feelings about the press. “In 2007, when the garbage disposal problem was at its peak, there were a lot of negative articles about me,” she says. “I felt bad about it.”

Following the reading, she meets people who come to her with various complaints. Usually, they are representatives of the resident associations. They have problems regarding the drainage, poor lighting in the streets and the collection of garbage. After breakfast, she sets out for the office at 9.40 a.m.

Once she reaches there, a series of meetings take place. On any given day, there are review meetings on various projects, interactions with ministers, and co-ordination meetings with organizations like the Kerala Water Authority. Sometimes, senior bureaucrats will come from Delhi to hold review meetings of Central-funded projects.

At 2.15 p.m., Mercy goes home to Thammanam for lunch. “It is only in the car that I am able to close my eyes and think about all the decisions I have taken,” she says. “Till then I don’t have the time. With most people I can barely spend a couple of minutes, because there is another person with a file standing right behind him.”

At home, she has a simple meal of rice, fish curry, and vegetables. Thereafter, she rests for a brief while before she returns to the office by 3.30 p.m. There are more meetings, sometimes she has a public function to attend, and Mercy works till 8.30 p.m.

When she reaches home she has dinner with her family -- husband, Williams, lawyer-son Anup Joachim, his wife Mridula and their four-year-old son David. Later, she works on official files till midnight.

So what part of the job does she like the best? “The joy of meeting so many different types of people from all walks of life,” says Mercy. “People are so talented. Senior citizens who have contributed to the city in the past come up and tell me about their ideas on how to improve things.”

She listens intently and gives her views also. Mercy relishes the freedom of expression. “For women, the opportunities to speak in a male-dominated society are few,” she says. “When a woman is in power, she is able to talk fearlessly about on what is on her mind.”

And this former lecturer hopes she has been a role model for women, especially students. “Like me, I want women to serve society,” says Mercy.

Unfortunately, the desire to serve is lessening by the day. “People have become very selfish,” says Mercy. “Relationships are based on profit and loss: what can I gain from my friendship with a particular person? People no longer want to contribute to society.”

Indeed, this selfishness has fuelled an appalling corruption, not only in the Cochin Corporation but in institutions all over India. “Corruption has become deeply entrenched,” says Mercy. The Mayor admits she has tried, with some success, to contain it within the premises of the Corporation.

But now the battle for a clean administration for Mercy is about to be over. Her five-year stint as Mayor will end in September. So what are her achievements?

“After I took over, South India’s largest waste treatment plant has been set up at Brahmapuram and the Rs 19 crore HUDCO water supply project has been completed,” she says. There are numerous other projects, like houses for the poor, a new sewerage treatment plant at Mundamveli, and the introduction of low floor a/c and non a/c buses.

Mercy spoke about the expansion of Sahodaran Ayyappan Road and the development of the Thammanam-Pullepady road.

“The rail overbridges at Pullepady and Edapally will be coming up soon, apart from the Vytilla mobility hub and the Rs 22 crore Broadway Market Renewal project,” she says.

Recently, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission selected Kochi as the Best Solid Waste Management City from among 63 cities in India.

There is plenty to smile about for Mercy. So will she try to renew her public career post September?

“My fate is in the hands of God,” says Mercy. “He will decide.”

(This column traces the daily life of leading personalities)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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