September 11, 2010

Grassroot democracy in Chennai

Did you know that the Mayor of our city is an early riser, devotes at least 30 minutes to yoga and is willing to go that extra mile to support those who work for the less-abled?

M. Subramaniam is seen as a pro-active Mayor. At least, he is not seen merely waving flags at DMK rallies (of which he is a senior member) or snoring in his chambers.

Someone told me that our Mayor occasionally goes out into the city incognito to get a better understanding of the city, its residents and his staff.

I have not caught him in dark glasses, Tees and faded jeans on an electric cycle in our neighbourhood.

But I believe that something did tick in his head recently.

Mayor Subramaniam has authorised the formation of local groups for each of the wards of our city.

They can discuss local issues, debate ways in which to address them and chart local plans.

Wards are a collection of colonies in a neighbourhood. A councillor represents each ward at the Corporation Council and he/she is elected by people. Some wards are reserved. These councillors handle local issues, mainly civic and they have a say in these affairs at the local, zonal and city level.

The system then represents democracy at the grassroot level.

But does it really work?


The elections are marred by money power, goondaism and manipulation and most people never participate in them.

Elected councillors rarely interact with local communities and are often seen working closely more with officials and contractors than local people and their representatives.

Civic works and development do not often address what the communities want. So while workers are busy relaying the pavement alongside a 30-feet bridge with fancy tiles, the pavements on either side are in a shambles. And while saplings are being planted on 3rd Avenue, bushes have over-run the sidewalks of 3rd Street.

Mayor Subramaniam says he wants people, NGOs and civic groups to work alongside councillors and his officials at the ward level.

You have a role to play. Want to?

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