B Vimala, the councillor of Ward 41, part of the RK Nagar assembly constituency, sits in a modest office above the ward’s Amma Unavagam, just off a busy street, a hub of activity. On the wall behind her hangs a picture of veteran Communist leader N Sankaraiah. A member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)), this is 30-year-old Vimala’s first term as a councillor.
Vimala has been with the CPI(M) for the past ten years. Her political journey began as part of the youth wing of the party, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI). She decided to enrol in the party as a full-timer post her stint with the DYFI, after being convinced that it was the best way to serve people. Her husband is also a full time member of the party.
The decision to contest as councillor was made by the party high command and she was chosen based on her experience in the ward. As a long-time resident of the area, and one whose life has been shaped by the challenges faced in growing up there, she has a list of issues that she hopes to solve during her tenure.
Ward No: 41
- Name of Councillor: B Vimala
- Party: Communist Party of India(Marxist)
- Age: 30
- Educational qualification: Class 10
- Contact: 9094927123
Citizen Matters spoke to her about the challenges in the ward, her vision for the city and tackling the question of the Kodungaiyur dump yard, which has been a bane for her constituents.
Goals for Ward 41
What are your three immediate targets for the ward? What are your long-term goals?
I would say that improving the quality of our road, providing potable water to the residents of this ward and improving sanitation are tasks I am looking to take up right away.
During my tenure, I would like to eradicate all the problems surrounding the availability and quality of water, improve quality and access to education and solve problems around the dumping of waste in Kodungaiyur.
In addition to this, I am also keen on working to improve the transport facilities here. We are demanding newer bus routes and additional bus routes; right now, we are highly dependent on autos and share autos, which are expensive to afford for the people here as most of them are daily wage workers.
How do you interact with the constituents? What kind of outreach activities have you held so far and plan to do? How can people in the ward contact you?
I am not an outsider to this place, I come from ward 41 myself. Therefore, I know what its core problems are. In general, my contact details are made accessible to people. It is available online as well. So people can reach me whenever they want about any issue. I personally attend all calls most of the time. I also get on the ground and visit people in person, so that I can inspect issues first-hand and also hear about problems that they have directly. I try to take action regarding them immediately. I do these things so that people see me as one among them, and as someone they can reach out to whenever they wish to.
In addition to this, WhatsApp groups have been created so that people can share their grievances. At present, there are three groups with more than 250 members. People can update their issues on this instantly, and I will try to address them at the earliest.
Waste management in Ward 41
One of the biggest issues here is that of the dump yard at Kodungaiyur. The ward carries the waste burden of more than half of the city. City-wise measures aside, are there any attempts that are taken up by the ward to solve this issue?
There are continuous protests, both by the party (CPIM) as well as by the public. This is a chronic problem; unlike Perungudi which is less densely populated, this is a large area with a dense population. The people living here suffer from the dump yard’s presence – the fallout from the dumping of waste has caused a spike in instances of cancer, and people living in the vicinity also face respiratory issues and skin disease. When there have been fires in the dump yard, it has led to people fainting due to the toxic fumes. The quality of groundwater has also declined due to the seeping of leachate.
It is hazardous for the people that get into the dump yard and work there without proper gear or safety measures.
Several guidelines are present to counter the effects of the dump yard, such as having parks of a certain size around it. But none of that is followed here. I have taken this up with the Commissioner a few times, and have urged for parks to be set up to mitigate the pollution.
Bio-remediation of the dump yard is the long-term solution. We hope that the initiative launched in Perungudi would make its way to Kodungaiyur as well and that the process can be completed quickly. This would help the residents and improve their quality of life immensely. Corporates are now able to take up waste and convert it into many things like compost, sand, cement and soil. The government should introduce some projects like that as the corporates find use in the waste, and that will help reduce the pressure on the dump yard too.
What are the issues affecting waste collection in the ward?
Currently, for my ward, the waste management rests with the Corporation of Chennai. There have been issues in enforcing segregation, lax style of functioning by the workers and dumping of waste in areas apart from bins.
Training the existing workforce in better segregation, ensuring waste is collected on time door-to-door and spreading awareness among the general public will yield results. But concerted efforts must be made to streamline the waste management system in the ward.
Private companies will not be willing to take up work in many wards of North Chennai due to the volume of waste and the amount of work necessary.
Privatisation is not the answer to the problem as that would bring up a host of issues including exploitation of the workers involved in waste collection. Contractors may not adhere to minimum wages and often dock pay without providing days off.
From the point of view of the role of residents, the corporation also does awareness drives to promote the segregation of waste. I sometimes try to talk to the residents about this and raise awareness as well. But the point is, the corporation workers collecting waste have to follow the process in place, to begin with. Only if the process of waste collection is prompt will the people have an incentive to be regular with waste segregation and disposal.
Transport and urban employment in Ward 41
How effective do you think the public transport system is here?
Transport is a huge issue here. We need more bus routes and frequent buses here. At the moment, people are dependent on autos and share autos here. They charge at least 15-20 rupees, but that’s not affordable for wage workers. Even existing buses are not frequent enough. New bus stops and more frequent buses are a demand we have placed here. There is a 10 crore project for new grounds here.
Transport is an area that has long been neglected here. From my own experience, I had to drop out of school after a certain age as the public transport was infrequent and there were concerns about safety.
What is your take on the Tamil Nadu Urban Employment Scheme that is recently being implemented?
It is a good scheme. It is replicating the 100-day work scheme (MNREGA) present in the rural areas. But the problem is that it has not been designed well, and adequate jobs haven’t been created for the same. At the moment, the only job that is done as part of this scheme is the desilting of stormwater drains and channels.
The wages are also low – 380 rupees is the per day wage, and the requirement is to remove 18 bags of silt. As a result, only women come to work as part of this scheme. Even this desilting work will not be available post the rainy season, so I wonder how this scheme will be taken forward. There are other problems too. The machinery required for this process is not provided, removing silt that has accumulated over time is no easy task, and most people find it difficult to fulfil the target of 18 bags. While this entire process can be mechanised, it is futile to make people work on this manually.
Instead of replicating rural work in urban areas, they can provide work related to urban development projects. They can also design better jobs, and provide training for the same. We need to invest more in machinery that can make work easier.
Coordinating with various agencies for Ward 41
What are the outcomes of meetings and discussions with other councillors and officials on common issues? Are your suggestions well received? Are they implemented?
The councillors in this zone are quite receptive, and we all share a good relationship. But in general, follow-up is the key to having demands heard and getting things implemented. Pressure from people and councillors is what gets the job done. So I try to keep a close eye on the complaints and grievances raised.
This is how I managed to remove the water hyacinth in the Buckingham canal passing through the area. I had to repeatedly follow up on the location of the machine. During this process, I also found that the city does not have the adequate machinery needed to remove water hyacinth across water bodies in the city.
I have also managed to get water pumped to parts of the zone that haven’t received it for about 10 years now. There are various issues in the pumping station ranging from faulty equipment to issues with manpower that have resulted in the non-availability of water. We worked with the metro water officials to ensure that supply is provided at least once in a few days to these areas.
For the last 5 years, bureaucrats have run the show and it is only now that we have an elected body for the Greater Chennai Corporation. How has working with various civic agencies been so far?
It has been challenging in many ways. In working with the departments and civic agencies and getting things done, funds are our biggest challenge. We do not have the funds necessary even for small issues, such as installing speed breakers or arranging gloves for workers. A process had been established at the time the city did not have elected councillors, wherein approval from the Regional Deputy Commissioner (RDC) for basic works was required. But this is being followed even after the election. We have now requested authorities to scrap this and allow councillors to be able to sanction up to 10 lakhs for works in the ward. Hopefully, this will give councillors more autonomy and speed up the process of resolving issues.
Read more: What do we do with Chennai’s legacy waste?
Expectations and vision
What are the expectations of your constituents and how do you manage them?
The people approach us with very high expectations. They want all problems to be instantly solved with the coming of a councillor. I try to listen to their issues and promise that I would work toward rectifying them. However, I try to give a realistic picture of the time it would take, as I cannot give false promises. Overall, I would say that people in the departments are much more serious now after the coming of an elected body of representatives.
What is your vision for Chennai as a city?
There are a few issues that we have grown up hearing about. One of these is the cleaning up of the Buckingham Canal. The canal would be a source of livelihood as well as a source of drinking water if cleaned and made usable. With proper intent, this canal can be made functional again. Setting up of ward-wise pumping stations would be a permanent solution and can prevent other expenditures, such as that water hyacinth removal and tackling mosquito menace if the water body is maintained properly.
Another issue I would like to address city-wide is the improvement of the status and quality of corporation schools including amenities such as toilets and drinking water. The quality of education and that of teachers in Corporation schools are better than in many private schools, but people still prefer to spend on private schools because of the absence of these basic facilities.
In addition to this, major expenditure, in my opinion, should be on schools and anganwadis. Amma Unavagam and fair price shops should also be improved as these are services used by a large section of the public in Chennai.
What the residents say
Godhandam S said, “Garbage and water are the main issues we have. The dump yard has caused problems with groundwater. We have to buy water to use for cooking and drinking. The garbage dump must be removed. Even we are residents of Chennai and do not want to deal with it for decades. Other than that we also need regular water supply in many parts of the ward and zone. This has been a problem for many.”
Pavithra K said, “The councillor has been accessible, we have seen her around the ward after the elections. I have not personally approached her yet but have heard from people that she has resolved some issues of water in the ward for some homes. We hope that other issues raised by us also can be resolved. Since she is also a resident here I hope she is able to understand the issues better.”