The Greater Chennai Corporation’s (GCC) budget is expected to be tabled in the council meeting on March 27. The state of the finances of the civic body requires close scrutiny as the quality of daily life of Chennaiites is linked to how well the civic body can carry out its functions.
Chennaiites part of active Residents’ Welfare Associations and Civil Society Organisations share their expectations on what must feature in the city’s budget.
On roads and stormwater drains in Chennai
While residents are aware of the importance of stormwater drains for flood mitigation, many raise grievances about the impact of the SWD work on the condition of roads across the city.
“Roads and pavements are in very bad condition after the stormwater drain (SWD) construction work that had taken place. We expect a sufficient budget for proper bitumen road repair work and pavement relaid with bollards and handrails to prevent encroachments,” says Meera Ravikumar, a volunteer at Swachh Gandhi Nagar, Adyar.
“Many roads that were damaged due to the construction of SWDs to be relaid properly with gradient flow towards the disposal site and also illegally raised roads should be milled and relaid with sufficient budgetary allocation for the same,” says R Kanagaraj, President, AGS Colony Residents’ Welfare Association (ACRWA)- Velachery West.
“We expect the budget to concentrate on improvement in education, infrastructure works, especially roads,” says Harsha Koda of the Federation of OMR Residents Association (FOMRRA).
On the issue of encroachment of roads across the city, Raghukumar C of Community Welfare Brigade, Perambur sees an opportunity for the civic body to tackle the problem while bolstering its revenue.
“Why are the officials refraining from reining in the commercial establishments that choose to encroach the roads and footpaths? We urge GCC to levy a high amount of fine on a daily or weekly basis,” says Raghukumar.
On Solid Waste Management in Chennai
The bulk of the budgetary allocation of the civic body is usually done for the purpose of solid waste management in the city. With Chennai looking to move to a decentralised system that does away with landfilling, every step of the process must be accounted for in the budget.
“Solid waste management is not taken seriously. A greater number of Micro Composting Centres (MCCs) and Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) should be constructed in every ward to reduce dumping in a landfill like the Indore model,” says Meera.
Raghukumar wants waste management for his Zone to be privatised. “Garbage and debris-ridden streets have become a part of our life, except in places where people have constantly been engaging with the local officials. A lot needs to be done to revamp the SWM system in this Zone,” he says.
Fines for littering is another announcement that residents want the civic body to follow through on.
“Fines for dumping garbage on the road, improper segregation of garbage at source, littering and defacing public spaces can generate revenue for the civic body if implement stringently,” says Kanagaraj.
“Even though there are clear rules in place to book the litterbugs there has been no political or administrative will to act decisively when it comes to the collection of penalties or charges. We urge the GCC to empower the conservancy workers or their officials to collect the fines when people choose to throw garbage or dispose of construction debris in public spaces,” says Raghukumar.
What should the budget focus on in Chennai?
A variety of services and infrastructure needs feature in what the residents would like the budget to focus on this year.
“Setting up primary health centres and creating awareness of the same need to be done. Pedestrian safety must also be given utmost importance in the announcements by the GCC,” says V S Jayaraman, President of Motilal Street RWA in T Nagar.
“A budget which gives at most importance to improving greenery in the city is the need of the hour. We have lost thousands of trees to developmental work like stormwater drains and Metro Rail Project. New green lung spaces must be developed to compensate for the tree loss,” says Meera.
“Allocations must be made to provide a facelift ad to protect the culture and infrastructure of the city with a focus on heritage buildings,” says Kanagaraj.
“There must be sufficient funding to improve the facilities and appearance of Anganwadi. Teachers must be trained with state-of-the-art pedagogy to make an impact on the children in the early learning years,” adds Meera.
Residents also have expectations and requests specific to their areas.
“Adyar needs more Multi-Level Parking (MLP) at various locations as the area is booming with commercial activities,” says Meera.
“OMR is the highest property tax paying area and has been deprived of basic facilities for many years like metro water and sewerage underground lines and they are fighting for their rights which is not yielding any tangible results. This must be addressed by the authorities,” says Harsha.
“AGS Colony has not been well connected with the direct roads to Velachery Bypass Road and MRTS IRR. We have given representations regarding the direct road connectivity which has been accepted by GCC and we hope to see that materialise this year and funds allocated for the formation of direct roads,” says Kanagaraj.
On tax and non-tax revenue for Chennai Corporation
Residents have a variety of suggestions on how the civic body can improve its property tax collection and tap into other sources of non-tax revenue.
“The GCC has not been able to meet its target on property tax collection. From the tax defaulters’ list, one can see that a huge amount remains to be collected. Revising the property tax rate is not the solution to improve the revenue of the GCC if the civic body is unable to actually collect its dues,” says Jayaraman.
“Active RWAs can be asked to help organise property tax camps across the city, ensuring that even those who are unable to access online filing facilities can pay their taxes easily,” says Kanagaraj.
Residents also urge the civic body to consider imposing fines as deterrents to activities like littering and improper parking. Not only will this move reduce inconvenience, but it can also help bolster the finances of the GCC.
“Illegal on-street parking has been a menace. GCC must start charging a fee for long-term on-street parking of cars and other four-wheelers. A lot of premium public spaces across the city are now being usurped free of cost,” says Raghukumar. “The money earned by levying a fee across the city can then be used to construct multilevel car parking facilities on government-owned lands.”
Raghukumar also suggests that the civic body must spell out a clear policy on graffiti and posters in public spaces.
He urges the civic body to adopt the model used by the Railways in having allocated spaces to put up banners and setting a time limit and a fee for the same.
“There are many heritage sites across the city and GCC can organise heritage tours/walks with proper guides and earn more revenue through such programmes,” says Kanagaraj.
Citizen participation in Chennai’s budget
Across the board, residents felt that their voices were not heard or efforts made to incorporate their suggestions into the budget.
“The GCC should have held town hall meetings in various places to get input from the residents and other stakeholders. Such a meeting would help the civic body to come out with a budget that takes into consideration what Chennaiites want,” says Jayaraman.
“Earlier when there were no elected councillors, deputy commissioners used to call active volunteers of RWAs and include them in the budgeting process which was not followed later. Such meetings with stakeholders will bring transparency and effective participation,” says Harsha.
“I would like my area property taxes to be spent on developing my ward and not other areas of the city. GCC must furnish ward-wise revenue collection details on social media handles and their official website and spend the amount on improving that ward,” adds Harsha.
Charu Govindan, founder of Voice of People, a civil society organisation says “Each ward office could have had a drop box for budget sessions from the public. Also, an Email ID could have been shared with the general public to send in their suggestions.”
Charu points to the example of Bengaluru, where special buses were sent on routes across the city to start a dialogue with people on the civic body’s budget and collect their demands before the budget.
The absence of Area Sabhas was also noted by the residents who felt that the platform could have been used to hear the voices of Chennaiites before the creation of the budget.
“In the absence of officially functioning Area Sabha, area-wise public consultation could have been held with GCC officials and Ward Councillors,” says Meera.
“Many residents believe that if Ward Committees and Area Sabhas had happened before, they could have registered their suggestions on an official platform. This would have been ideal for participatory urban governance. Involving the public in budget decisions could potentially increase voting percentages in local body elections,” adds Charu.
A greater representation of residents’ voices in the city’s budget can help GCC focus on specific areas that need improvement and can positively impact life in Chennai.