“The houses on that street must not complain of mosquito menace again. Spray mosquito repellents there,” instructs Shanthi (aka) Yazhini, Councillor of Ward 135, to an employee as I enter her cabin on the first floor of the ward office in Ashok Nagar.
A portrait of Thol. Thirumavalavan, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s (VCK) leader, hangs in a place of prominence in her office.
“When I was a college student, I heard him passionately talk about uplifting the downtrodden. Inspired by that, I joined the party to serve people,” says the 48-year-old councillor and lawyer.
VCK chose her as the councillor candidate of Ward 135 based on her experience as the Deputy Secretary of Mahalir Viduthalai Iyakkam. She used to help the underprivileged in the districts of Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur, by arranging senior citizens’ pensions and helping school students with their education.
This exposure has helped her represent the concerns of the people of Ward 135. This is the first time Yazhini has become the councillor, and she hopes to set many things right in Ashok Nagar.
Ward No 135
- Name of Councillor: Shanthi (aka) Yazhini
- Party: VCK
- Age: 48
- Educational Qualification: B.Sc; B.Ed.; LLB
- Contact: 9884408024
In a conversation, Yazhini shares her goals and aspirations for Ward 135.
Primary goals for Ward 135
What are your immediate targets for Ward 135?
I wish to improve the 16 anganwadis in Ashok Nagar since toddlers and their mothers receive nutritional and educational support. We have taken a survey about what they need: from replacing floor tiles to other repair works. The requirements have been approved by the ward committee. I would like to refurbish the anganwadis with the funds the government gives to the cause. Apart from that, we are also looking into CSR funds for this purpose.
Apart from anganwadis, I have also been trying to address water scarcity problems in Ward 135. Wherever there is a shortage of water for personal consumption, we have installed hand pumps and connected them with houses as well. In areas where we cannot set up pumps, or when the water from pumps gets polluted, we have set up common water tanks which will be filled based on demand.
I am also addressing sewage leakage woes in our ward. Many people from economically backward backgrounds are complaining about sewage water entering their homes. Before the onset of the rainy season, I have requested the GCC and Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board to work together and provide respite to the people. Those who have the means are able to raise the level of their houses to not let sewage water inside their homes, but this is not the case for most residents.
Issues in Ward 135
Flooding is an incessant issue in Ashok Nagar. How do you plan to make Ward 135 flood-free?
Despite stormwater drains (SWD) being present, this ward faces water stagnation for 7-10 days in some spots post rains. We have been desilting the existing drains to increase their carrying capacity when rains lash.
Moreover, older stormwater drains are damaged. People complain of rainwater from the drains entering houses, especially in slum areas. We flagged these locations to the Corporation for laying of new drains We hope to complete this work soon.
Furthermore, we have been laying new SWDs this year, and 90% of the work is done in Ward 135. Within this month, the SWD-laying process will be done. Wherever there is public demand to lay SWD, we have considered those locations for flood mitigation work.
Many public toilets are not functioning across Chennai. What is the status of public toilet operation in your ward?
There are two public toilets in Ashok Nagar — one in Kamarajar Salai, and the other near Lakshman Sruthi. The latter one is functioning, and corporation workers take care of maintenance. The former one is closed due to stormwater drain work happening near its entrance. Once the work is done, that toilet will also become functional. We are also planning to renovate the toilet in Kamarajar Salai. Another toilet is being built in 1st Avenue.
We also had plans to build a toilet in 11th Avenue, but it had to be stopped due to public complaints. I want a toilet there for the street vendors to use. If a toilet is not built there, they may resort to urinating in the open, which is unsanitary.
Read more: Four recommended steps for a flood-proof Chennai
Working for and with the people
How do people approach you to highlight issues in the ward? Ashok Nagar is planning to digitise public queries and complaints. How do you plan to achieve that?
Currently, they call me on my number to complain about problems. We used to note the complaints in a notebook. I talk to the relevant public officials to sort out the problems, and I also call the residents back to see if their complaint has been settled.
I also frequently visit various areas in the ward to listen to people’s grievances. If there are any major issues, I will ask the local officials of GCC, CMWSSB and the health department to also accompany me for speedy redressal.
Recently, we have collaborated with Indus Action, a rights-based policy implementation organisation, to make grievance redressal digital under the Active Citizenship programme. That is, the public can track the status of the complaint online. This will bring transparency to our efforts to reslove issues in the ward. We are planning to introduce a WhatsApp bot number for complaints.
There has been news that some women ward councillors have let the men in their families take over ward management. What are your thoughts on that?
In Tamil Nadu, women have a 50% reservation in local government. Also, among the 200 wards under GCC, 102 of them have women ward councillors. We have struggled for equal rights for decades, and we finally have it. This is a great achievement for women, and they must not give up their rights to represent people.
Even if women representatives are unaware of the work they have to do, this is a chance for them to learn and inspire other women in the city to realise their rights.
Education in Ward 135
You have been taking initiatives to strengthen schools in Ashok Nagar. Can you elaborate?
We look after the cleaning and repair needs of the government schools. Among other things, an accessible toilet for physically disabled people has also been set up in a school after I took charge of the ward.
In the corporation schools, we have tied up with Citizens for Law and Democracy, a registered society, that has been teaching English to children. The students are equipped with the tools to learn English from their surroundings. I am from a government school, and I did not get the opportunity to learn English. Hence I know the roadblocks they have to face if they are not versed in the language, and I want them to escape that rut. I am also looking at various sponsors for these schools to support the English training.
Furthermore, we have spread awareness about RTE seats in private schools through social media and other means. We focussed on sensitising the parents from anganwadis since their kids will be eligible to join these schools from LKG. We gave parents flyers and also helped them to apply via the website. The message is being spread to people in the neighbouring wards as well.
My office is being supported by Indus Action in the RTE and anganwadi outreach efforts.
Read more: Why has RTE failed to level the playing field in Chennai schools?
Goals for Ward 135
What is your vision for Ward 135?
Ashok Nagar is one of the hubs in Chennai. It is near Koyambedu and T Nagar. We are also taking efforts to beautify the ward. Under the Namakku Naame Thittam, we have taken over a major divider in Ashok Nagar for maintaining plants. Ashok Nagar was one of the first wards to get enrolled in that scheme in June 2022.
Additionally, we have also been maintaining parks in the ward, along with addressing public requests related to parks.
Along the lines of Singara Chennai 2.0, I want to transform Ward 135 into Singara Ashok Nagar. We have the constant support of government and corporation officials to make that vision a reality.
What is your vision for Chennai?
Chennai boasts of the second largest beach in the world. We should tap into the tourism aspect more to generate extra revenue streams. For this, the beach beautification efforts must be accelerated.
Also, the cleaning efforts of the Cooum must increase. Decades back, the river used to be a mode of transport for people. We need to bring that back. Moreover, a clean Cooum can also promote tourism.
What the residents of Ward 135 say:
PN Gubendran, a resident of the ward, says, “The councillor is highly responsive. Whenever we call her with grievances, she tries her best to address them. However, we require a permanent Fieldwork Assistant Engineer in the ward. There is a temporary Fieldwork AE now.”
“The sewage mixing with potable water has become unbearable. The councillor has set up tanks and pumps for us to get water. But we hope to get a permanent solution from the menace,” shares NP Sasikumar.