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Who has the power — people or officials?

Initiated by the civic body in every ward, the formation of Area Sabha seems like a grand vision that sounds great in theory only. Lack of awareness among denizens and the ambiguity in the formation of its committee have made civic activists and residents wary of its role and impact.

Who has the power — people or officials?
Illustration by Saai

CHENNAI: To resolve civic issues and enhance the development of the city, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) had initiated Area Sabha, a platform where people can interact with ward councillors and committee members to share their grievances in the locality.

However, most denizens are unaware of the members and claim that many are local politicians. The ward councillors have not had any discussions with the public in their respective wards before selecting the committee members.

The GCC’s initiative was much needed for the public, and supposed to help the civic body function better in developing the city. Though residents from different neighbourhoods submit their grievances and demands to the GCC, they believe it doesn’t help with efficient and quick resolutions. That’s where Area Sabhas come in. To make Area Sabhas more efficient and discuss issues that residents face, there must be constant interaction with other residents in the division.

“We were not aware of the Area Sabha initiative until we visited the Chennai corporation’s official website, where it mentioned the 10 committee members from various streets. And we’re clueless on the parameters these people were selected on, of which many streets are left out including Motilal Street, Pinjala Subramaniam Street, Mangesh Street, and Rangan Street. There was no prior interaction with the residents of the neighbourhood before choosing them,” said civic activist V Jayaram, a resident of Motilal Street in T Nagar.

The 10-member committee has social workers and advocates, but most are members from the ruling party. Public can discuss their issues through Area Sabha meetings but, as officers are not willing to do the same, they have appointed local politicians for their favour. And it’d also help in showing that there was no issue in the locality.

“The purpose of the initiative will not be fulfilled as members have been chosen by ward councillors. They should inform the public in advance where residents can interact,” said Srini Seethuraman, a resident of Madipakkam, Ward 187.

Similarly, people in north Chennai are also not aware of the Area Sabha committee members and stated that their councillors do not interact with residents in the locality. And there are civic issues that have not been resolved for a long time.

A Wajith, a resident of Muthiah Mudali Street, Old Washermenpet, opined that through this initiative, the government shall support the people by bringing permanent solutions for problems faced in the locality. As the committee members are not familiar with the wards, people state that it’d be difficult for the residents to communicate with them.

“Though it’s a good initiative by the Corporation, only local politicians are part of the committee. We’re not comfortable interacting with them because they’re not familiar among the people in the area. We cannot discuss our problems with random people because we believe they wouldn’t represent our issues to the civic body,” said M Balakrishnan, general secretary of Tansi Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association in Velachery. “The corporation could have selected members from various sectors such as traders, persons with disability, women activists, and auto drivers.”

Talking about the Area Sabha in the city, ward councillors claim that the civic body had promised to conduct a training programme regarding the same. Members waited for the announcement during the budget session last month, but nothing happened.

“Since we’re not aware of the initiative, it’s difficult to talk to people about it. After the corporation issues guidelines, we can conduct the Area Sabha along with the appointed members and zonal assistant engineers. Recently, a meeting was conducted for the officers. After it’s done for us and the official data is announced, the Area Sabha will begin,” said M Renuka, Ward 42 councillor.

She expects at least one person from each locality to participate. “We’ll schedule the meeting based on their availability. There are many daily wagers in the northern part of the city. We’ll make sure they understand the concept. Pamphlets will be issued to the residents ahead of the meeting,” she added.

The civic body has planned to conduct Area Sabha meetings every month. The committee members of each zone would organise it monthly, and the ward councillors would hold it once every 3 months.

When contacted, Mayor R Priya stated that people find it difficult to communicate with the councillors due to various issues. “The Area Sabha would be a platform to gather and talk about their grievances and development projects. This is a new initiative for the officers, ward councillors and public. Awareness about the Area Sabha would increase after the meeting is held. It’s expected to commence in May. We would ensure that the committee members interact with the residents before the Area Sabha is officially commenced. It’d be transparent for the people to cooperate during the meeting and in the future,” explained Priya.

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Swedha Radhakrishnan
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