The elections to the Corporation of Greater Chennai may have been postponed by the Court but what is written below is still relevant anyway:

The dates for the civic body elections have been announced. While the matter almost immediately became sub judice, what with the Opposition claiming that the schedule was too rushed and so demanding judicial redress, there is no doubt that the polls are due and will have to be held. The question is, what is the kind of Council that is going to be elected?

Given that our State’s civic bodies are not really financially independent entities with sweeping powers over the metros they govern, the role of a Councillor does become somewhat limited. But within that restricted portfolio, there is much that an elected representative can do. Take for instance a door-to-door campaign to implement garbage segregation at source. Similarly, a daily tour around the ward to see problems besetting the place would help.

True, the issues thus surfacing would not be directly under the control of the Corporation, but would need liaising with agencies such as Metro Water, the Slum Clearance Board and TANGEDCO. But if a Councillor was to set his/her mind to get involved, there is much that could be done even with those other organisations, for a Corporation’s elected member’s clout amounts to quite a bit. We have not seen any of our representatives avail any of that for public benefit. Beyond representing their party interests, no matter whether they are in power or in the opposition, and that too purely for political scores, no elected member of the Council does anything much.

We also see massive public projects being undertaken in the name of development all across the city. Flyovers and subways are perhaps the most visible among these. These are, of course, planned and executed by the Public Works Department, with, in some cases, the involvement of the Highways Department. How often do Corporation Councillors get interested in these? After all, such projects have an enormous impact on the lives of people in their wards. Access to drains, water, electricity junction boxes and, above all, air and light – all of these are affected. Why can the concerned Councillor not organise for public hearings on these projects and involve local architects and designers to give their views?

There are, thus, several ways in which a Councillor can be involved. Unfortunately, very few do and when it comes to elections, not much of a candidate’s scorecard on civic issues really gets taken into account. Voting is on the basis of party lines and several members of the public even think that voting for a particular party is what important as it thereby reflects on their loyalty towards the supreme leader of the outfit! Where does service to a constituency or ward fit into this?

That very few view this as an office of service has been made evident several times over. If in the past we had the celebrated muster roll scandal that resulted in our city’s Corporation being suspended for over two decades, we have had instances of accusations of corruption time and again. The charges of sleaze merited the attention of the Chief Minister herself, who in 2012 threatened to dissolve the elected body and run the Corporation with the help of Special Officers in case the Councillors did not give up their old ways. The fact that there is much jockeying for a party ticket for the Council elections despite such tightening up indicates that the problem has not gone away as yet. There have already been three suicides all directly related to non-issuance of party tickets for the Chennai Corporation elections. Surely these people have not given up their lives because of sorrow over being denied an opportunity for public service!

And, so, who or what are we electing? It is time to reflect on that as voters. Perhaps it is time to demand some accountability from our local representatives. After all, the quality of our life depends on them.