Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy of the DMK has won from North Chennai. He is the son of veteran DMK leader and former state minister Arcot Veeraswamy. A doctor and graduate of Stanley Medical College, this is Kalanidhi’s political debut.
Citizen Matters had interviewed Dr Kalanidhi during the election campaign in April. Here he talks about his plans for improving North Chennai, from closing the Kodangaiyur dump yard to decongestion, from creation of jobs to infrastructure for fisherfolk.
What are the problems that people put forth to you over the course of your campaign?
The information we got from assembly constituencies and party functionaries is that there is a huge water shortage. The people are struggling. It is the duty of government here. This is something we can’t fix straight away. It involves long term effort. We must examine long-term plans such as interlinking or desalination. There must be local level consultations.
In some areas such as R K Nagar and Royapuram there is mixing of sewage with drinking water. Leakage of oil that endangers marine life is a problem.
Can you elaborate on the top three action plans or issues you will fix in the constituency?
I’m sure there are a lot of educated people who are not aware of what the role of an MP or MLA is. I will listen to whatever concerns raised by the people of my constituency. Three out of six MLAs from the assembly constituencies belong to my party. Speaking with them I have learnt of the struggles of the fisherfolk who are being asked to move to a different location for the fish market. They must be able to retain the space.
When I visited Kolathur, they had a different set of issues. They wanted a public park for the residents. The problems of North Chennai are not uniform. Even within an assembly constituency, there are various issues. With a change in power, we can better address the issues of people. I will not discriminate between anyone in my constituency.
Air pollution and industrial pollution are a huge issue in the area. As a physician you must be well aware of the hazards. Is tackling this on your agenda and how?
In the industrial sector you are bound to have issues.They have regulations but must be enforced better. I am trying to contact and learn from other examples abroad on how they prevent contamination of air and water. What I can do as a parliamentarian is interact with the Central Pollution Control Board. The problem is the cost for industries goes up and we must consider how it is amenable for all. Maybe a part of the cost can be borne by the government.
Fisherfolk form a large portion of your constituents. What do you feel can be done to make their lives better?
Our party has an exclusive wing, the Meenavar Ani. The broad issues that can be addressed are separate harbour in Thiruvottiyur, the modernisation of corridor between port and the issue of increase in compensation during the holiday period for fishermen.
The Kodungaiyur dumpyard is the elephant in the room in north Chennai. With increasing unhappiness among the residents, is there a solution to this on the cards?
Kodungaiyur has to be shifted. There must be a separate strategy to deal with waste, dust and pollution that affects the people.
There is the prevalent sentiment that the north has not fared as well as the other parts of the city and has been left behind in terms of jobs and infrastructure. What is your proposal to deal with the gap?
We are aware of the dire situation in relation to jobs. The GST has been brutal. The government was ill prepared to bring in the GST without consolidating the GST network. It is estimated that 50,000 MSME units have been shut and five lakh people have lost jobs as a result. North Chennai was an industrial hub and the hub of the economy but now the economy shifted. Only the industrialists are faring well but the employees are suffering. Property value has diminished.
North Chennai must be revamped and improved. The need is for long-term vision. The area must be decongested to create townships with residential plots. Job opportunities must be created in the service industries and education must be improved. We are talking about a huge exercise Unless we do that it will be hard to decongest. There has also been a proposal to set up an engineering college in North Chennai that will be beneficial.
Until recently north was a DMK bastion. There are long-pending infrastructure and connectivity issues such as the elevated expressway. Do you think enough has been done in the past by your party?
People have already reposed faith in DMK. The only time ADMK won this seat was in 2014 on the back of the 2G scam that turned out to be without any evidence against us. As for the long term projects like the expressway, there must be continuity despite the government. The project was roadblocks by the ADMK government like they did with the new secretariat building converted into a hospital. The ADMK government lacked long-term vision. The only option left in this case is for the people to take a call once in five years.
You are from a political family with a father who has had an illustrious career. The opposition criticises the DMK for dynasty politics. How do you counter it?
In 2016, I applied for my willingness to contest in the assembly elections (but) I was denied a ticket. You come to know when I am given a seat but not the times I was rejected. I’ve been associated with the party for some time. I was told by (our) leader Stalin that if and when they find a use for me, I will be informed. I was chosen for the Medical Wing last year. I feel that I am an able candidate. I’ve always followed a lot of Indian, British American and Australian politics. I feel like whatever happens in other parts of the world will happen. My awareness could have played a part in my selection.