Citizens must make their voices heard on civic issues


Over the last few years I have been actively involved in taking up matters related to civic issues, and escalating them to the concerned officials within the state and central administration on a regular basis, whenever needed. 

I managed to resolve several issues within a short period of time. But there have been instances where I had to relentlessly follow up with the officials concerned, escalate the matter to higher authorities and take the dialogue to social media to bring about positive change.

A nexus between officials, contractors and politicians is to be blamed for widespread corruption within the ranks of the state and central administrative systems. Having interacted with the officials and politicians I firmly believe we will be able to implement significant reforms only when we as citizens get directly involved in the decision making.

This applies to all spheres, including development and maintenance of roads, sanitation, conservancy, water supply, street lights, sewage, stormwater drains, electricity, healthcare, telephone and broadband infrastructure among other things.

A sense of awareness among fellow citizens is important. As is having a Ward Committee in every ward across the cities of Tamil Nadu, in order to oversee and ensure delivery of quality infrastructure and services.

A few incidents from the recent past highlight the misplaced priorities of our civic administration.

Electricity distribution pillars

On a daily basis while walking or commuting through our cities, we would have noticed electricity distribution boxes being installed in every road or lane in an indiscriminate manner. Who decides where the EB Pillars are to be located? Is it the resident? Or is it the Assistant Engineer (AE) / Foreman / Lineman of the electricity board?

This house located in the corner of a narrow lane in our neighborhood is being redeveloped. Inorder to facilitate smooth entrance to the car park which is located in the east the owner wanted to relocate the mini EB pillar.The building contractor seems to have met the local officials and sought their help in relocating the located in the north east corner outside their house a little further away.

The street is only approximately 15′ wide and the pillar box had to be placed in a manner that would enable opening from both sides. The builder decided to place the EB pillar half a feet away from the compound wall on the already narrow street. By doing so, around 3 feet of the street was encroached upon.

There is a diagnostic testing laboratory in this lane and patients are brought in everyday for X-rays, ultrasound etc. The residents in the lane objected to the new location of the pillar, citing the inconvenience it could cause.

As a resident taking active interest in such issues, I tried to arrive at a solution by talking to the AE and the building owner about moving the pillar box to a location where it would not obstruct the road. But no progress was made during this conversation.

The work has been suspended now and the pillar already erected by the builder is yet to be removed.

In a bid to understand if this is a common problem, I went around my neighborhood to check on how the EB pillars have been place. I am sharing a few images to illustrate the level of shoddy work being done by the department:

Street signboards

Over the past few weeks I got to see the horrible condition of  several sign boards across the city and also the manner in which they were erected.  As always the contractors have been delegated the responsibility of erecting these sign boards.

The officials within the ranks of the local administration on the other hand have failed miserably to oversee the work being done and have to be held responsible for the mess.

Some of the signboards in disarray:

Pedestrian subway

The Railway Pedestrian Subway which is located right opposite to the Perambur Railway Station is in shambles.

Without realising that this subway is being maintained by the Greater Chennai Corporation, I sent a Tweet to our Railway Minister and received a feedback almost immediately from the Indian Railways HQ seeking my contact details.

The officials from the Southern Railway office subsequently contacted me to inform that the subway has been handed over to the Greater Chennai Corporation and wanted me to lodge a complaint with them.

I lodged a complaint with the GCC about the same. While they have rectified the faulty lights within the subway, nothing has been done as yet to address the stagnation of sewage water or the ceiling that has been chipped away.

Unless the government of the day finds a way to ensure quality audits and maintenance of the infrastructure development projects initiated by them the facilities are bound to be misused. Our voice matters and we must seek accountability from the administration.

Positive strides

While the flaws in the system need to be highlighted and followed up until fixed, there are some success stories as well which need to be told:

Railway station compound wall

The condition of the compound wall opposite to the Perambur Railway Station was abysmal. On seeing this, I sent a tweet to the Railway Minister a few days ago. The railway authorities have initiated corrective action and work is in progress to rectify the issues.

Wall posters on public buildings

An issue highlighted in one of my earlier posts, the granite cladded wall in front of the ESI Hospitals in Medavakkam Tank Road, Ayanavaram was cleaned up.  While the issue was addressed on the complaints made, the resolution was short-lived as the violations continued to persist.

Posters stuck on granite wall.

Shelter for the homeless and mentally challenged

In a previous post, I had shared my experience of finding a shelter for a mentally challenged homeless person who was in my neighbourhood.

On November 22nd, I encountered Pandiyan from Tenali in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. He had come to Chennai just before the pandemic and lockdown in search of a job.

Unable to find a job and having spent all his money he found himself homeless and his mental health deteriorated. Since he was able to express himself clearly it became apparent that all he needed was some help and shelter.

I immediately called The Banyan and sought their help.  The rescue team got in touch with me and promised to arrange for the pick up.

Whenever a mentally challenged person is being shifted from one locality to another, there is a protocol that needs to be followed. Given my earlier experience, I sought help from the Police Control Room. But what followed was a disheartening repetition of the earlier encounter, with me having to approach and speak to different officers, none of whom were quite inclined to helping.

Ultimately, through persistence and escalation of the issue to higher officials, Pandiyan was finally able to get help on November 28th. He is now in the Kovalam Shelter for the mentally challenged in the outskirts of Chennai. He is undergoing treatment and will be rehabilitated.

All these experiences have left me with the valuable learning that while we may find many problems around us, only repeated escalation and active follow-up can fix these and improve our civic infrastructure and services.

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About Raghukumar Choodamani 11 Articles
Raghukumar Choodamani is a resident of Chennai and likes to write about his observations in Chennai.