Will push for education reforms including ban on coaching institute ads: Thamizhachi Thangapandian

Incumbent MP Thamizhachi Thangapandian of the DMK talks about improving infrastructure and bringing economic development to South Chennai.

As India gets ready to vote to decide who will represent the country in Parliament, Citizen Matters is speaking to elected representatives from Chennai, ahead of the Lok Sabha 2024 elections.

As part of this series, we did an email interview with T Sumathy alias Thamizhachi Thangapandian, incumbent MP from Chennai South constituency. Thamizhachi has been given the ticket by her party DMK to contest from the same constituency in the 2024 polls.

Chennai South and Thamizhachi Thangapandian

chennai south
Chennai South constituency comprises of Mylapore, Saidapet, Virugambakkam, Velachery, Sholinganallur and Thyagaraya Nagar.

A poet, writer, educationist and theatre person, Thamizhachi is the daughter of veteran politician and former Minister late V Thangapandian and the sister of Thangam Thennarasu, Finance Minister in the present DMK government in Tamil Nadu.

In 2019, Thamizhachi contested from the Chennai South constituency and won the seat by securing 5,64,872 votes against her closest rival, the AIADMK candidate J Jayavardhan, who got 3,02,649 votes.
She got 50.28% of the votes polled and won by a margin of 23.34%

The battle lines have been drawn and this time, apart from Dr Jayavardhan, Thamizhachi has to contend with BJP candidate from Chennai South constituency Tamilisai Soundararajan, former Governor of Telangana, among others.

In this interview, we raised pertinent issues with the incumbent MP including poor flood mitigation efforts during monsoons, rampant encroachment of wetlands like the Pallikaranai marshland, proposed shifting of the Perungudi dump yard, need for better public transport and so on. Thamizhachi enumerated the various initiatives that she has undertaken during her tenure as MP, the poll promises she has kept and many problems that are yet to be addressed.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

What have been the major spends from your MPLADS funds and what has been the impact?

My major focus was to fulfill the constituents’ requests made over a long period. Under this, my MPLADS funds were mostly spent on building community halls, installing high mast lights, drinking water facilities, bus stands, Anganwadi, sports stadium, gyms and fish market for the people of coastal Chennai.

Apart from this, MPLADS funds have been spent on building classrooms for schools, providing classroom furniture, building indoor stadiums and renovating kitchens in the government schools. Through these projects, a direct channel for constituents to engage with their Members of Parliament (MPs) regarding local development priorities has developed.

I was able to interact with the constituents, listen to their concerns, and allocate funds accordingly. I think more than an impact, this engagement has fostered a sense of connection and accountability between me and the constituents.  

South Chennai is a prestigious constituency with many educational institutions and IT companies. But every monsoon the residents here suffer because of waterlogging and poor flood mitigation efforts. How have you addressed this issue in the last 5 years and what do you plan to do in future to find a solution?    

The DMK government and I have been fastidious in  improving infrastructure of South Chennai  to mitigate flooding here and this has been a priority over the last five years.

Some of the recent developments:

  1. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) will build 120.55 km of stormwater drain along 688 roads at an estimated cost of Rs 508.33 crore in the city with German funding. The work will be completed in 24 months.
  2. The GCC has allocated a lion’s share of budget for the construction of the stormwater drains. Rs 1,321 crore has been set aside for stormwater drain work to be undertaken in the Kosasthalaiyar Basin using the Asian Development Bank funds.

My office has been actively involved in addressing all civic issues in the constituency, beginning with water logging, potholes on the road and so on. Our government will adopt a holistic approach that combines infrastructure development, technology integration, community engagement, and long-term planning, with the goal of effectively addressing the issue of flooding in South Chennai and ensuring a safer and more resilient future for its residents.

Read more: Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Chennai South — Know your constituency and candidates

You have vehemently opposed the implementation of centralised tests like NEET, CUET etc in Tamil Nadu. What changes in education policy would you push for regarding this issue and why?

The DMK government has always opposed the implementation of NEET and it will vehemently oppose it in the future also.

The problems related to competitive exams are:

  1. Pressure on students (mostly put by parents)
  2. High number of students suffering from mental health problems
  3. Suicide attempts
  4. For Southern states, language remains a big issue
  5. It jeopardises their future prospects, leading to low self esteem; with high hopes yielding no result

Here are the changes in education policy that I propose to bring:

  1. Ban on misleading coaching institute ads that try to lure students; for example promising 100% success rate, guaranteed jobs and so on.
  2. Invest in improving school infrastructure, teaching quality, and resources across the country to ensure that students receive a high-quality education regardless of their socio-economic background. This can help reduce the reliance on coaching centres for exam preparation.
  3. Conduct of centralised exams in languages mentioned in the 8th schedule. Both NEET and CUET are not conducted in Tamil.
  4. Government keeps the students in the dark about the syllabus of the exams. A student studying in a state board school cannot compete in these exams. Syllabus should be prepared in such a way that students prepare for both state and national-level exams without compromising on the state’s educational values. 
The incumbent MP at an event in the Chennai South constituency. Pic: Instagram page of Thamizhachi Thangapandian

The Pallikaranai marshland is under threat of large-scale pollution and encroachment/grabbing by land mafia. There have also been demands for an alternative solution to the Perungudi dumpyard. How have you taken up these issues at a policy/legislative level in the last five years after you were elected?

I have raised a 377 in Parliament (rule which allows members to raise matters that are not Points of Order) on July 24, 2019. Important points raised were —

  • The wetland ecosystems play an important role in the natural drainage system in South India.
  • Pallikaranai is an aquatic ecosystem, which is home to several rare, vulnerable and endangered flora and fauna. It is also a breeding ground for many migratory birds making it environmentally very important to the local and global ecosystem.
  • Its existence is uncertain in future: serious threat from the developmental programmes adopted by the government and the dumping of municipal wastes — the GCC is dumping about 2200 tonnes of garbage in landfills right over the marshland. Besides, a sewage treatment plant that is located in this region is discharging 32 million litres of untreated sewage into the marsh on a daily basis.
  • Result: chromium content in the land and groundwater is hazardously high and the air quality too deteriorated. Due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation the Pallikaranai marshland has been reduced to one-tenth of its original extent.

We wrote a letter to the Environment Minister and received a reply but no further action was taken.

The present DMK Government had secured ₹165.68 crore for restoration activities till 2023 and reclaimed 40 acres through biomining. These actions mark significant strides towards safeguarding this vital ecosystem.

Furthermore, through the present State government’s continuous requests and appeals, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has announced Pallikaranai marsh reserve forest as Wetland of International Importance and declared it as a Ramsar site.

Since 2021, the present DMK government has been steadfast in its commitment to restore the Pallikaranai marshland. One significant step in this journey has been the state’s persistent plea to the Union Government to secure Rs 200 crore from the United Nations Green Climate Fund for the restoration project.

After rigorous scrutiny, the proposal received a no-objection certificate from NABARD in 2022, marking a crucial milestone in our efforts to safeguard this vital ecosystem. In 2022, the government opened an eco-park at the Pallikaranai marshland, at a cost of Rs 20 crore.

The eco-park features a 2-km walking track, green spaces, and informative display boards showcasing the region’s diverse migratory birds, flora, and fauna. This initiative clearly underscores the state government’s commitment to preserving and celebrating the rich biodiversity of the Pallikaranai marshland.

Read more: Lok Sabha 2024: Know your MP — Thamizhachi Thangapandian, Chennai South

How do you view the state of the local economy in Chennai and what kind of policies would you push for, especially for small and medium businesses?

As you are aware, Chennai is the largest industrial and commercial centre in the state. Its rich cultural past, along with thriving economic activity, has transformed it into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis, attracting people from all across India and the world. The automobile, hardware manufacturing, data centres, and fintech industries serve as the foundation of Chennai’s economy. According to CMDA figures, Chennai alone accounts for 10.94 percent of the state’s income.

Recently, Tamil Nadu was recognised as the ‘Best Performer’ in the start-up ranking 2022 and was awarded by the Union minister for Commerce and Industry. Tamil Nadu is a recognised start-up leader now and our present DMK government has always supported MSME units with micro and mega clusters.

Once I’m re-elected a complete assessment of the small and medium-sized business economy and employment profile will be conducted specifically for my constituency to identify the actions and initiatives, both formal and informal, that can expedite employment and income development for the poor and low-income groups of South Chennai.

I believe the small-scale industrial sector is a powerful tool to generate more employment. As a result, infrastructure facilities for industrial estates will be enhanced, and relief measures can be used to rehabilitate viable sick units.

You had spoken earlier about expediting Metro Rail work. In terms of Metro expansion vs MTC upgrades vs MRTS — how would you prioritise and push for these? In general, what would be your plans for greening the commute in the city?

The issue has been raised three times in Parliament through different interventions, in 2019, 2022 and 2024.

Matter raised in 2019 included:

  1. A detailed feasibility report for the expansion of the Chennai Metro Rail Project Phase II along three corridors — northwest to southeast; west to east; and an orbital corridor for a length of 118.9 km, at an estimated cost of Rs 69,180 crore.
  2. The Integration of the Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS), with the Chennai Metro Rail

Matter raised in 2022 and 2024 included:

  1. Southern Railway took up the work for further extension of Chennai-MRTS, for about five kilometres, from Velachery to St. Thomas Mount. Unfortunately, it remains pending for the last 13 years for various reasons, including problems related to land acquisition.
  2. A 5-km stretch from Velachery to St. Thomas Mount is one of the main arterial routes in the suburban transport system of Chennai. It connects suburban routes, Chennai Metro and also Southern Railway lines.

Since 2019, we have been writing letters to the Minister of Railways.

Apart from this, I am a part of PGCA (Parliamentary Group for Clean Air) where I along with other Members of Parliament are working closely in the area of climate change and air pollution. As part of this initiative, I have conducted several plantation activities and advocated for separate cycling and walking paths throughout Chennai.

Once re-elected, my focus will be on enhancing and expanding public transportation systems, including buses, trams, and trains, which can encourage more people to use mass transit instead of private vehicles. The aim is to create safe and accessible infrastructure for cycling and walking to incentivise people to choose active modes of transportation, and launch IEC activities to educate citizens about the environmental and health benefits of sustainable transportation.

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