As a social activist, Siva Elango knows what he has to do to improve the state of urban governance and the quality of life of suburban residents. He dons many hats — Siva started his career as a journalist and took a plunge into politics when he became the founder-president of Makkal Sakthi Katchi in 2009. He contested in the bye-elections from Bargur and Pennagaram constituencies in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In the 2011 elections, he contested against the former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi in Tiruvarur constituency.
In 2013, Siva gave up politics and founded Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI), a social organisation based in Tamil Nadu, to promote rule-of-law, anti-corruption, liquor prohibition and good governance. He has also authored several books on governance.
With new hope and fresh thoughts, Siva is yet again back in the fray this time, representing the relatively new Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) in the Tambaram constituency. The constituency has been a stronghold of DMK and Siva will be facing off against S R Raja (DMK) and T K M Chinnaiah (AIADMK).
How does he see the electoral fight this time and what are his plans for the constituency? Excerpts from an exclusive interview.
How do you feel about the re-entry into politics and your association with MNM?
Having faced defeat in earlier forays, I felt politics is only for people who have earned name and fame. My work at SPI consisted of creating awareness about the RTI Act, conducting grama sabhas, model Parliaments, training for basic laws and the likes.
I have been promoting the conduct of Grama Sabhas since several years. But we could not reach a larger audience. Even before starting the party, Kamal Hassan had met us to know about the range of our activities. He began participating in Grama sabhas which gained popularity. As a normal citizen, my reach was limited; but when an actor initiated a discussion on Grama sabhas, it travelled across the lengths and breadths of the State.
Kamal was keen to create a chance and space for social activists in politics. He gave me an opportunity, I accepted. Since I live in Tambaram, I am contesting from the same constituency.
How has your campaign trail experience been so far?
It has been good. I met the Chitlapakkam Rising team and have been interacting with a lot of residents’ welfare associations. The welcome was quite warm and people are open to listening to what I have to say. It was very encouraging when people told me that they have seen me on television debates representing SPI.
What are the major problems that people shared with you over the course of your campaign?
Tambaram as a constituency comprises Town Panchayats and Municipalities, but people are struggling to get even basic amenities. Several Residents of Tambaram get drinking water supply only weekly once from the Municipality. People from Chitlapakkam do not have a water scheme at all. Some of the other issues that they raised include:
- Lack of underground drainage system and stormwater drains
- Poor waste management
- The delay in the widening of Tambaram-Medavakkam road and Tambaram-Mudichur road, are stalled for several years
- The absence of streetlights in several pockets of the constituency
- Waterbody encroachment
The people also wish for the formation of Tambaram corporation, through a merger of all the nearby local bodies including Pallavaram, Chitlapakkam, Sembakkam and Perungalathur. Metro rail extension till Perungalathur is another demand.
So, what are your top three action plans, or issues that you will fix in the constituency if elected?
The role of an MLA is to make laws and participate in standing committees. However, we are at a point where the MLA should also do the job of corporators/councillors. Given the state of affairs in Tambaram constituency, I aim to ensure supply of potable drinking water for all, within the first year of taking charge. During the second year, my focus will be on roads, that include relaying battered roads and expediting the widening project. In the third year, I will work to rejuvenate the water bodies in the constituency.
It is evident that there are a lot of pending projects here, due to which the roads are in poor condition. What is the solution for this?
Yes, there are several pending projects across the constituency. I have first-hand experience: a few weeks ago, the construction of stormwater drains was completed in my locality [Kadaperi]. Within a few days, the roads were dug up once again for some other project. The only way to improve and maintain roads is to ensure that all the departments that execute UGD, SWD, electric lines and telephone lines work together so that the roads are not excavated time and again.
Before re-laying a road, all these departments should come together and plan the implementation of projects. Once roads are laid, the roads should not be dug up for the next five years.
The local bodies in the constituency do not handle solid waste properly. In many cases, the waste collected is just dumped in the water bodies or burnt. Do you have a plan?
Definitely yes. Although the local bodies are encouraging esidents to segregate the wastes, all the waste collected is dumped together at the disposal sites. What is the purpose of waste segregation if this is how it is going to be handled? I feel people are fundamentally unaware of the solid waste management rules. I will first create awareness and take efforts to compost the wet waste and recycle the dry waste. This compost can be distributed to farmers.
Tambaram constituency has seven water bodies and all of them are encroached and polluted. How do you plan to protect them?
Whenever we take up a lake rejuvenation project, the MLA is bound to earn the wrath of the people who have encroached the waterbody. For example, around 450 houses have encroached Chitlapakkam lake and there is an active case in the Madras High Court. We need to go beyond all the obstacles to clean up and protect water bodies as they are important to recharge groundwater. If we do that, we will not need any external water resource, these water bodies themselves will be sufficient to meet the drinking water needs of people in the suburbs.
We have been working with environmentalists and have a lot of plans. In the suburbs, the excess water from one lake will be carried to other lakes through the inlet and outlet channels. However, all the channels are blocked now, which leads to flooding. The passageways should be restored first and then the sewage inflow will be arrested.
What is your vision for Tambaram constituency?
Firstly, the local bodies in the constituency are not transparent. No one living in the locality knows the list of projects executed by the local body or the funds allocated to it or the contractor who is implementing it. People should be aware of what is happening in their locality, I will put in place a system that will aim to inform citizens.
Secondly, corruption exists in every government office. I want the local bodies in Tambaram constituency to be free from corruption. As an MLA, I will work towards passing the Delivery of Service Act, which is adopted by many states in India. Under this act, if a person experiences a delay while availing a government service, the government will have to pay a penalty to the person who seeks the service. By implementing this, bribes can also be eliminated.
A feedback system will be introduced to document the performance of every government employee and facilitate action against people who indulge in illegal activities.
Do you think MLAs or elected political representatives get their due share of compensation in terms of salaries, perks etc?
No, not at all. Including the allowances, an MLA earns about Rs 1,05,000 every month. The actual salary is around Rs 35,000 to 45,000. If the government provides a generous salary, MLAs will be honest and not indulge in corruption.
How are you funding your campaign?
It is a zero budget campaign. We have been seeking donations for conducting the campaign. Politics has become business these days where politicians invest in campaigns, and then loot through tenders when they assume power.