Sitting AIADMK MLA Dr R Nataraj is all set to contest again from the Mylapore constituency. A retired Indian Police Service officer, Nataraj had served as chairman of the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC) and is best known for bringing transparency in the conduct of government examinations. He joined AIADMK in 2014 and first won the Mylapore assembly seat in 2016.
How has his experience as a bureaucrat helped him? What plans does he have for the constituency? We catch up with the 70-year-old legislator. Excerpts from the interview:
What is your vision for Mylapore constituency?
My vision is to make the constituency green, clean and pristine. I will formulate an action plan for planting more trees, improve green cover, spruce up the parks and develop Miyawaki urban forests. Water conservation and Rainwater harvesting (RWH) will be propelled as a people’s movement to make Mylapore a front-runner in this. I have 21 action items on my mind, which I will list as we speak.
What are the constituency’s prime issues?
Since we have not had local body election for eight years, I am also doubling as a councillor and have looked at every issue in my constituency. Residents have brought to my notice recurring problems like water shortage and power-tripping. Some of the larger issues are the implementation of Metro rail services between the Light House and Nandanam, beautification of Mada streets and restoring the old glory of public congregations for cultural exchange, trade and spiritual activities.
Beautification of Buckingham Canal is a major issue here. This project has already been taken up under the Smart City programme on the 500-metre Kalvi Varu Street and will be completed soon. I will take up other roads through which the canal passes after that. Freeing the pathways from encroachments will ease vehicular movement. Families who have encroached along the canal will be relocated to some of the 63 slum areas in my constituency.
Tell us three things you will take up if re-elected
A lot of housing board buildings in the constituency have become old and should be rebuilt. My first focus would be to get the housing project completed. I had raised the issue in the Assembly and a project to construct 12,940 units at a cost of Rs 1,680 crores was approved in 2019. But the project got delayed due to the pandemic. The project will be executed in Palakmanyam, Kapali Thottam, Visalakshi Thottam, Marwadi Thottam, Vanniyambathi, Valleswarar Thottam, Nochikuppam, Dooming Kuppam, Sreenivasa puram and a few other localities. I will ensure everyone who is displaced gets houses within the same constituency. I will also ensure that patta is issued to everyone in the settlement. Construction work will begin after the elections.
Secondly, the mada streets will be cleared of those violating zoning rules. We have identified a place in Venkatesh Agraharam to construct a shopping complex. All the vendors will be allocated space within the complex.
Thirdly, residents in the tail-end areas in my constituency have problems with access to potable water. Also, old sewerage drainage pipes will be identified and replaced with new ones to prevent clogging of drains
Expediting the construction of multi-level parking facilities in all zones is also there in my to-do list to ease traffic congestion and to prevent unauthorised parking in public spaces. The government has approved implementation of this project.
COVID has created unprecedented challenges in administration and governance. How has Mylapore fared in terms of the number of cases, vaccination, treatment and plans for managing rising no of cases?
When the pandemic broke out, the situation in Mylapore constituency was alarming. We started holistic treatment by introducing AYUSH medicines. Although nothing has been proven, we found that AYUSH treatment was very effective in boosting immunity and controlling the outbreak. I made arrangements to increase the number of testing centres, and am now encouraging people to get vaccinated.
Mylapore recently had a temple procession which saw thousands congregate without masks and social distancing. How is this affecting campaigning too? When you talk about restoring the glory of public congregations, how can that be done with COVID restrictions and precautions in place?
I have been telling people to remain cautious and take precautions while stepping out. I feel they have learnt to live with the virus. The Panguni festival has an emotional connection with the people as it is held only once a year. We did our best to reduce the crowd, but people turned out in large numbers to worship God. It is not right given the outbreak, but that is how it is.
When I talk of glory. it refers to improving sanitation, hygiene and civic amentities. COVID is one reality, but life has to go on. All we can do at present is emphasise precautions, mask ourselves properly, maintain physical distancing and stick to handwashing hygiene.
Do you feel it may be possible to close the main temple to prevent crowds, till the new wave subsides?
When COVID was at its peak last year, the temples were shut down. Similarly, if the situation demands closing the temples now, the authorities will take a call.
How has your experience as a former bureaucrat helped you govern during the last five years?
It has certainly helped to a great degree. I know how the government works which makes my work easy. Normally, other MLAs resort to holding protests or engage in arguments to get things done, but I know bureaucrats and am aware of how to get things done.
Since I was with the police force, I have an exclusive MLA office for people to reach out to me and have set-up a helpline that works 24×7. The transition from being a bureaucrat to legislator has been very smooth so far.
How do you plan to upskill youngsters from low-income groups?
Our constituency is known for producing table tennis champions. I have built a table tennis stadium in Alphonso ground and will provide public gymnasium facilities. We have seven playgrounds for promoting sports here. Why should the urban poor be neglected while developing a constituency? They should also be able to use world-class facilities.
Based on my experience as Chairman of TNPSC, I have introduced free coaching classes, special classes for the differently-abled and special classes for children from the fishing community wanting to enter government services. Many of them have cleared government exams. These initiatives have to be bolstered further to have a strong impact.
Citizen consultation and transparency are two key aspects while executing a project. Residents have expressed unhappiness about it. Your views…?
I absolutely agree that citizens should be a part of development plans. My constituents can reach out to me anytime if they feel something is amiss.
How do you plan to make development more inclusive?
I agree that no one should be left behind. It is very important to develop the slum areas in a constituency. I feel it should begin with creating awareness about the welfare schemes launched for them by the government and ensure they get it. I hold many such awareness camps in my constituency. A multi-pronged strategy is what we need for wholesome development.
Marina Loop Road project is a project that has received flak from many fishermen. Your response?
It is important that we beautify and maintain the beach which gets many visitors. But not at the cost of earning the wrath of fishermen. I will build a modern fish market facility at Santhome with cold storage facilities and proper shops for sale of marine products in a hygienic atmosphere. This will also beautify the Loop Road as the roadside vendors will be moved to the new fish market.
As a sitting MLA, what do you feel about making the spending details of MLA funds more transparent?
Personally, I have been regularly sharing details of MLA funds on my Facebook page. But for any MLA, we can get the spending details by filing a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.