Residents of Chennai face myriad issues on a daily basis right from bad roads, poor quality of water, power cuts, safety and connectivity. Fixing these issues requires a concerted effort on the part of residents, officials and elected representatives.
Residents have found ways to escalate problems in their vicinity and the larger city through collectives such as civic engagement groups, residents’ welfare associations and civil society organisations.
A civic engagement roundtable organised by Citizen Matters brought together members of these groups who have been actively working for the betterment of the city. The discussion centred on understanding the key challenges facing residents, attempts made to improve the city and some success stories in engaging with the local government.
The event saw attendees from Perambur, Ashok Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Madipakkam and Besant Nagar among other areas in Chennai.
Key civic issues faced by residents in Chennai
Poor roads were a common complaint across the city with attendees blaming slow stormwater drain work and lack of follow-up from the civic body. Residents complained of frequent accidents due to bad roads.
Some residents such as Meera Ravikumar of Gandhi Nagar pointed out that SWD work is being carried out in areas that have sandy soil where the infrastructure will not serve its purpose.
Priya Ramachandran of Kalakshetra Colony also raised the issue of SWD
construction in East Coast Road and how the fight put up by the residents along the project area has resulted in stalling of the work.
Another issue that was raised was water supply. T D Babu, a resident of Shastri Nagar highlighted the erratic supply of water in the area. Irregular water supply meant residents had to fork out huge sums to buy potable water.
Ram Shankar of the Rain Centre pointed out how rainwater harvesting structures are not monitored by the authorities. With proper RWH structures, the twin issues of flooding and drought can be resolved.
Residents also raised the problem of poor waste management, with S Raghavan of Ashok Nagar pointing out the low rate of source segregation as a key reason the system in place has failed.
Poor policing is another problem plaguing Chennaiites. Kamakshi, an octagenarian, complained of slow action by the police in attending to the concerns of residents, especially senior citizens.
Meenakshisundaram of the Federation of Senior Citizens of Tamil Nadu echoed a similar sentiment, blaming the police’s failure to act on the rise in crime against women and senior citizens.
How residents solve civic issues in Chennai
Most attendees spoke of engaging with local officials to solve civic issues. Repeatedly following up on various civic problems had yielded results for Raghukumar Choodamani, who has resolved various civic issues in Perambur such as the problem of an incomplete road median on Perambur High Road.
Attendees also lamented the poor response time when complaints are raised on the Greater Chennai Corporation’s (GCC) Namma Chennai App. With the option to reopen a complaint taken away, residents find the app to be less effective as authorities close complaints without addressing them.
Attendees also pointed out that the Chief Minister’s cell, which had been a key avenue to escalate complaints in the past, is no longer effective.
Apart from direct engagement with officials, protests and interventions by the court have come to the aid of residents in cases such as the construction of SWD in ECR.
Finding success in civic engagement in Chennai
Not all is bleak. Residents also spoke of successes small and large in dealing with civic problems in Chennai.
Raghavan’s RWA is working on recovering the lost tree cover due to the
construction of SWDs by closely coordinating with the GCC.
Gauthamraj Elango of Reap Benefit has found a new tribe of civic warriors in the city through use of technology. A Whatsapp bot has been created where youth have been trained to report civic problems in the area and take meaningful action at the hyperlocal level.
Priyadarshini’s fight against SWD has raised awareness about why the infrastructure may not be suitable for all parts of Chennai and cannot serve as a blanket solution for urban floods.
T D Babu has worked to conserve tree cover in the city and prevented the unnecessary felling of old and mature avenue trees.
Through sharing their learnings and key strategies in engaging with officials on such issues, the residents who were part of the roundtable have shown that incremental change is possible and every Chennaiite has a stake in making the city better.
[With inputs from Geetha Ganesh Karthik.]