“Of the people. By the people. For the people.” Former US President Abraham Lincoln defined democracy thus. This quote is also the idea behind the Namakku Naame Thittam (NNT) scheme in Chennai, as the scheme calls for public participation in creating community spaces and facilities: spaces of the people; built or revamped by the people; and for the use of the people.
To put it simply, the public can restore or create community infrastructure by collaborating with the Greater Chennai Corporation under the NNT. The public will have to bear a share of the cost of the projects they want to undertake.
We spoke to some people who have taken up projects under Namakku Naame Thittam to know more about the scheme and their experience with it across Chennai.
How does NNT work in Chennai?
The idea of the Namakku Naame Thittam has been around for a while. It was first introduced in 1997-98, later revived in 2011 and then brought to life once again in 2021.
According to a G.O. released in September 2021, individuals and groups like resident welfare associations, public or private companies via CSR funds, and people from communities can take up projects under the Namakku Naame Thittam in Chennai.
The public must share a minimum of one-third of the cost of the work, with no maximum limit.
Non-exhaustive list of works the public can take up under NNT in Chennai :
- Restoring water bodies
- Building or improving parks and traffic islands
- Planting trees and setting up tree guards
- Building or renovating public assets like government or municipal educational institutions, libraries, hospitals, urban primary health centres, anganwadis, public or community toilets, markets, and new crematoria
- Constructing roads, bridges, stormwater drains and paver blocks
- Buying furniture and equipment for municipal schools, libraries, hospitals and urban public health centres.
However, NNT does not support works for self-financing or government-aided schools and colleges; office or residential buildings belonging to the state and union governments in Chennai.
Residents can approach the Assistant Engineers of their wards and seek their assistance in working on the detailed project report along with the estimated cost of the project. Then the residents formally express their interest and share the plan for the NNT project with the zonal official. After this, the project proposal is forwarded to the Commissioner for approval. Projects are evaluated based on their need and feasibility.
“Currently, 339 projects have been approved in NNT till date across the 15 zones in Chennai. Rs. 49.71 crores have been allocated for NNT by the Greater Chennai Corporation,” says an official from the civic body.
Translating NNT on the ground
R Kanagaraj, President of AGS Colony RWA, Velachery West, talks about a neighbourhood park revival project that they undertook in March 2022 under the scheme.
“We wanted to plant more trees, install a swirling slide for the children and set up a green track around our park. So, we opted for the Namakku Naame Thittam option to execute this work,” says Kanagaraj.
“After our proposal was approved, we paid Rs. 1 lakh to the Corporation, which was our share for renovating our neighbourhood park. The Corporation’s share was around Rs. 56,000,” he says.
Since the AGS Colony RWA paid more than 50% of the project cost, they were allowed to execute the work by themselves. “We hired a contractor we knew would complete the job,” says Kanagaraj. “So, we gave the deposit to GCC in December 2021, and the work began in March 2022 and was finished in May the same year.”
S Suresh, the general secretary of United Welfare Association of Ambattur explains how the arrangement works: “If our [budget] share is 50% and above, we can do the work ourselves, and GCC will pay that amount to us on completion of the work,” explains Suresh. “But if you pay less than 50%, Chennai Corporation will issue tenders and hire contractors to get the NNT work done.”
When the public bears half or more of the cost of the project, the GCC does not interfere with the process of selection of contractors. But the public has to pay their share to the Corporation which will release funds based on the progress of the work.
“Money is reimbursed in a stage-wise manner, as the tasks are completed. They verify the work done, and then reimburse funds”, says Arun.
Not just RWAs, but also NGOs can take up projects under the Namakku Naame Thittam in Chennai. The Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a non-profit environmental conservation trust, has taken up a few such projects in Chennai. The organisation is building an eco-park in an open space reservation area in Anna Nagar.
“Named Kanagam, this park will have sports facilities as well. We have also revived Kosapur pond in North Chennai under the Namakku Naame Thittam” says Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of EFI.
Read more: Rethinking water body restoration in Chennai
Most of the civic groups or individuals we spoke to who have taken up projects under the NNT say that it is advisable to pay more than 50% of the estimate, as they can then choose the contractors who would be best suited for the job. With a lower share, residents expressed concern that they may find themselves having to deal with contractors they don’t know, who may or may not execute the project well.
Lacunae in the implementation of NNT
“Our roadside park was set up in 2011 under the Namakku Naame Thittam. We had installed ornamental lights as well. At that time, we used to maintain it with our money. But we could not afford it in the long run. We did not get any help from Chennai Corporation either to maintain the park. Although the park was inaugurated in 2011, it is still an NNT project,” says Suresh. “Currently, we intend to rejuvenate the same park under NNT.”
According to the 2021 G.O., NNT assets must be maintained by the Corporation. However, the public can also volunteer to maintain the infrastructure.
Delay in disbursal of funds has been another major issue. As of mid-September, GCC has paid only for 16 NNT projects out of 177 projects. AGS Colony RWA got their payment in the end of July, while their work was completed in May.
Some citizens also cite lengthy procedures that lead to delays in getting the work done.
TD Babu, founder of SPARK, an unregistered civic group, was asked to register, get a bank account and a PAN card to implement the project. However, when we asked if only registered entities can take up NNT projects, GCC officials told us, “The person [or group] need not register. But they can get the registered details of the contractor, since contractors come under commercial establishment.”
“We were ready to spend 100% of the cost to adopt a traffic island on Elliot’s Beach Road in early 2021. But we were asked to take up the traffic island work under the Namakku Naame Thittam,” recounts Babu. “They [officials] assured us that the completion of the project would be smooth and quick.”
“We thought we would use our funds first and then we would get the rest later from the GCC. But we were asked to pay our share of 51% to GCC. After a huge delay, only 10% of the money was released to SPARK initially,” says Babu. For release of remaining funds, GCC asked SPARK for a Goods and Services Tax (GST) number. SPARK did not have a GST number since they are a non-profit civic group.
“On our insistence, they released the rest of the funds later, thanks to the good relationship we share with the officials,” says Babu. “But this would be our first and last project [by SPARK] under Namakku Naame Thittam.”
We approached GCC to know the reasons behind the delay in reimbursement of funds, but got no response.
The Namakku Naame Thittam has been conceived to create a pathway for people to take charge and be accountable for their civic spaces and infrastructure. “One of the ways for a strong and direct connection between government and people is through opportunities such as NNT. This strengthens democracy and nation-building,” says Arun.
As things stand, the scheme could successfully reflect the ideals of public participation in governance and democracy, if not for the red-tapism, which could potentially discourage people from making use of it for their needs.