Power vacuum

With councillors not holding office, residents in suburban areas have no one to turn to for help post Cyclone Vardah
Power vacuum
Trees that toppled during the cyclone are blocking roads (Photo: Manivasagan N)

Chennai

With the local body elections deferred and the terms of the elected representatives already over, the lacunae created by lack of local councillors has been felt deeply by the residents, especially in the suburbs, in the aftermath of Cyclone Vardah. 
Like countless families across the city, Sunil Jayaram, a resident of Chitlapakkam, has been waiting for power to be restored, five days after Cyclone Vardah struck Chennai, leaving behind a trail of fallen trees and electric poles. While the authorities have been doing their best to speedily clear the trees and resolve the power outages, residents in the city’s suburbs are facing a tough time, without local elected representatives in office. 
Sunil, who is also a member of the residents’ welfare group Chitalapakkam Rising, said the vacuum left behind by the councillors was visibly felt. “The power was restored only on December 16. The fallen trees were moved to the side of the roads by the residents and garbage too has not been collected over the last few days. The former councillor had not stepped in to survey the location. If there was an elected representative, we could call the person up, to address the issues. Now, there is nobody we can turn to, especially after a disaster like Cyclone Vardah. The residents have been left to fend for themselves,” he said. 
Residents of Mudichur, a locality badly hit by the floods in 2015 and now, the cyclone, are still waiting for necessities. Kasim Basith, a social worker from Mudichur, said the role of a councillor is important, especially in crunch situations like these. “The councillors are the link between the people and the government. Without a councillor, who will represent the people and their problems to the government?” he queried. Many resident welfare associations across the city concede that their councillors have not been particularly proactive. Syed Hassan, Secretary of the Korattur Welfare Association, said the residents were directly coordinating with officials of various government departments to fix civic issues. “We had rarely seen our councillor even during his term,” he added. 
Babu, a representative of Chrompet Federation of Resident Association, faces a problem all too familiar in many localities. “The MLA and councillor hail from two rival political parties. The rivalry is always evident even in the performance, as resident’s problems don’t get addressed quickly,” added the newspaper agent. 
Despite the complaints, there is a consensus that a councillor’s absence was felt. G Kamaraj, an auto driver in Vadapalani and a social worker, said there was a gap left behind by the vacancies. “Whether the councillors help us or not, there was always someone we could complain to,” he added. 
Former elected local body representatives, however, say they have been constantly addressing the problems brought forth by residents, even after their terms have officially ended. Ezhilarasi Prathanam, Councillor of Thiruverkadu, said that they have been working consistently since the cyclone. “People call us to resolve their issues. The cyclone had knocked down a tree, which fell over one of the houses. We organised an earth mover and supervised the clearing up. To tackle the lack of power supply in the area, we had organised water lorries to meet the needs of the people,” she said. 
Former Mayor Saidai Duraisamy said his phone has been ringing constantly after the cyclone. “In times of disaster, the public need easy access to officials. I listen to their complaints and connect them to the concerned officials. Most of the ex-councillors will surely visit their wards to access the damage. Service is service, whether an official holds office or not,” he concluded.

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