Councillor talk: Chennai can be transformed like Singapore says Kiran Sharmilee of Ward 107 – Chetpet

Kiran Sharmilee of Ward 107 has high hopes for transformation of Chennai. She also looks to address flooding and stormwater drains in her ward.

Software engineer turned entrepreneur turned politician, Kiran Sharmilee has been elected councillor of Ward 107. Her foray into politics comes after a 4-year stint at HCL after which she set up a business along with her husband, who is also a politician. She got the opportunity to contest the local body polls held this year.

Kiran Sharmilee hopes that her entry into politics, along with many more women who are part of the present council, will inspire other young leaders of the future. She feels that while earlier she had observed political developments from the sidelines, as a councillor she now has the opportunity to directly serve the people.

Ward No. 107 

  • Name of Councillor: Kiran Sharmilee
  • Party: VCK
  • Age: 30 
  • Educational qualification: B.Tech 
  • Contact: 9500366123
Map of Ward 107
Map of Ward 107. Source: OpenCity

Primary goals for Ward 107

What are your three immediate tasks/targets for the ward? 

Three generations of my family have lived in this area. Hailing from here, I am aware of the issues that have remained unsolved for a long time. One such issue is that of the MH bridge, in MH colony. It is in an extremely dilapidated condition; more than three people have died falling off of it in the recent past. One of my first targets is to rectify this situation. I raised this issue with the Deputy Mayor and managed to get him to commit in front of the constituents that the issue will be looked into. We have been promised that the bridge will be repaired in eight months. The work on this has now begun. 

The roads in the MH colony are also another concern. I have raised this with the authorities concerned.

Apart from this, an issue that most residents and welfare associations raise is that of stormwater drains that are unevenly distributed. This has also been looked into, and work has begun to construct these drains where required. 

Another issue that I have acted upon immediately after taking office is the opening of the Urban Public Health Centre (UPHC) in this ward. More than 90% of the construction has been completed, but the UPHC has not been functional. By bringing the Deputy Mayor, the MLA and the media to the site, I have been able to receive a commitment that the centre will be functional within a month. Getting all these commitments fulfilled would be my immediate target

Read more: All that’s wrong with stormwater drains in Chennai and how to fix them

Experience as Councillor of Ward 107

How has your experience of being a councillor been so far? Do you face any challenges because you are a young woman who is a new entrant into politics?

The experience has been good. I am grateful to be entrusted with this responsibility.

In terms of challenges, it would be the perception that people have. People have pre-set ideas about how someone young and without much experience would handle various issues. They often underestimate you. But I am one to look at challenges as opportunities to prove myself. I do not get bogged down by these perceptions.

Instead, I try to progress in my work in a way that they would be proved wrong and their perceptions would change. At the end of the day, I want the people in my ward to feel like they have made the right choice in electing me as the councillor. 

How do you interact with the constituents? What kind of outreach activities have you held so far/plan to do? How can people in the ward contact you? 

Right from the time of my campaigns, I have made extensive efforts to meet people and stay in touch with the happenings on the ground. I visited the ward over five rounds of campaigning, of which three were on foot. I covered more than 20kms a day. So staying connected with the residents of my ward has always been a priority for me.

I committed to the people that I would be on the field to sort issues, and that is something I am working to keep up. I go to the field regularly. Any complaints that are raised are usually sorted out within 24 hours. Residents as well as welfare associations have my number, so they reach out directly. Apart from this, street representatives are also in touch with us through WhatsApp groups. So, one way or the other, I hear about issues from residents, party workers or such association members. 

I also have the habit of taking officers, including the Metro AE and the Corporation AE, to go on morning walks. This way, I get to directly hear about complaints, such as metro water getting mixed with drain water and also inspect the same in person. At night too, I go on roads to inspect the cleaning work that happens then. On the whole, I would say that I am on my toes to stay as connected as possible with the residents of my ward. 

Waste management and flooding in Ward 107

One of the key issues in this zone is waste management. How is it being handled in your ward?

As far as my ward is concerned, waste management has been handled only by the corporation workers. However, I have been raising my voice for privatising it here as well. Most of the workers are aged over fifty and work with very low levels of efficiency. They struggle to even move between streets and do not work with agility. The permanence of their job also gives rise to complacency. My suggestion is that at least 50 % of the work can be privatised, while the remaining 50 % can be given to National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) and government staff. Besides, the government anyway cannot promise government jobs to everyone. 

While many raise the issue of exploitation and the absence of job security as an issue with privatisation, I feel that everything has its pros and cons. Our ultimate goal is to have a clean city; if privatisation is the way to achieve it, then we must go ahead with it.  

We see that flooding is a recurrent issue all through Chennai, and the government is now taking steps to counter this. What would be your suggestions to better deal with this issue?

While stormwater drains are being rapidly constructed around the city, I feel that it should be done with a better understanding of ground realities. For example, we have major flooding in Vinobaji Street here. While stormwater drains were laid here, they were not matched with the road levels. To make matters worse, the drain there also opened up, resulting in all the water mixing.

I feel that taking a little more care and caution to understand the specificities of the area and tweaking our work accordingly could be very beneficial. The government is working in full swing to get an elaborate stormwater drain system in place and solve the issue of flooding. But it would be effective only if it is done after talking to people and understanding the nuances involved. 

Read more: Hired under NULM, fired without notice: Conservancy workers in Chennai wait for justice

Vision for Chennai and goals for the term

What is your vision for Chennai as a city?

Thalapathy’s (MK Stalin) vision for a Singara Chennai 2.0 is my vision as well. Our CM got his inspiration for this massive transformation from Singapore.

If we look at the roads in Singapore, they are wide and clean, with separate lanes and adequate space between vehicles. Traffic is one of our primary issues. By building bridges, and bringing separate lanes into our existing wide roads, a lot of accidents and the issue of congestion can be prevented. Even if not immediately, I am sure that we can transform our city too in a similar manner within the next decade. 

Along with traffic, flooding is another primary issue we have. Once we can solve this, we can move to larger goals, such as the beautification of the city. 

What do you hope to achieve in your term as a councillor? 

If I get an opportunity to contest in this ward again for the next term, I would want to be elected as the councillor again. This means that I would have to work to solve the recurring issues of this ward as best as I can and satisfy the needs of the residents. As a councillor, we can work at the grassroots, and I would want to utilise that and make this ward an example for the rest of the city. 

My main goal is to make this ward clean. I want to privatise waste management in this ward. If people also cooperate on this front, through the segregation of waste, then it can be very effective when combined with door-to-door collection through battery-operated vehicles that are used by private companies.

I also want to put an end to the issue of flooding. While stormwater drains are being constructed with large budgets, I want them to be matched to the road levels. This is something that I want to follow up on and complete during my term. 

What the residents of Ward 107 say: 

Noor Mohammad, a resident of the ward, said that he expects the Councillor to be focussed on doing good for the people and solving their issues. He added that the coming of a councillor after a long gap has given him some hope that the issue of flooding would be sorted. Stormwater drains should be the priority according to him. He said that the councillor has been engaging well with the residents so far. 

Another resident, Ayyapan, an auto driver, said that the issues that require immediate attention are ensuring the availability of drinking water, preventing flooding that occurs even after slight rain and relaying broken roads that are full of potholes. 

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