Poorly organised Makkalai Thedi Mayor event stands in the way of public participation

Experience of residents at the Makkalai Thedi Mayor event in Zone 6 showed flaws in its organisation which must be rectified to meet its goals.

Chennai Mayor R Priya’s Makkalai Thedi Mayor scheme was launched in May this year. Under the scheme, the Mayor is to visit all 15 Zones of the city every 15 days to meet with residents and address their grievances. 

The meeting that took place in Zone 6 highlighted some key issues with how the residents have been able to engage with the Mayor. 

We spent over two hours waiting in various queues before the audience with the Mayor.

The poor planning left us wondering if the event was indeed Makkalai Thedi Mayor or Mayorai Thedi Makkal.

Read more: In a first in Chennai, residents share platform with civic officials in Area Sabha meetings

Experience at the Makkalai Thedi Mayor event

On the 30th of May 2023, I received a call from the local Assistant Engineer of Greater Chennai Corporation. He had called to invite the members of the Perambur Neighborhood Development Forum to participate in the Makkalai Thedi Mayor event for Zone 6 being organised at the Zonal Office located on Strahans Road the next day. The invitation was restricted to 3 to 4 members from our forum.

On the 31st of May, four members from our Civic Engagement Forum’s core committee were at the location well in time. 

The registration of the participants on arrival was very smooth. Tokens were issued to us and we were requested to be seated. It was token number 50 and we had to wait for about 10 to 15 minutes before entering a hall with several well-equipped and sufficiently staffed counters. 

Our petitions were scanned and uploaded and a copy of the acknowledgement was issued to us. 

The next step was to go and meet the Mayor on the first floor. 

Near the stairway leading to the first floor, we had to submit a copy of the acknowledgement for verification and proceed further. When we reached the first floor we noticed several petitioners being seated on rows of chairs which were arranged on either side of the lobby.  

We proceeded towards the room where the Mayor was meeting the people and were stopped by a lady who was on duty to regulate the crowd. She asked us to be seated and wait for our turn.  There were three to four rows of chairs on both sides and we chose to take a seat which was closer to the point where the official was posted. 

We noticed several petitioners who walked past the rows of people who were seated and entered the room seemingly out of turn. We asked the official to regulate the crowd and send the petitioners based on a “first come first serve basis”. 

At one point a group of petitioners who were seated chose to stand in a row and wait for their turn to meet the Mayor.

The setting in the waiting area turned into complete chaos. 

The officials as well as the police personnel requested all of us to be seated and promised to send us in once the crowding eased. 

We waited for some time and were ushered in, only to stand in another queue near the door for nearly an hour. 

In the meantime, we noticed several petitioners going into the room through the other doors while we continued to stand in line, awaiting our turn.  

We waited for another 30 minutes before we were finally granted an audience with the Mayor in person. A Minister from the State Government who was seated before the Mayor reviewed our petition before passing it to the Mayor. 

We briefed her on the contents of the petition, hoping for a response or reassurance that the matter will be addressed. However, we did not hear a word from the Mayor.

The government official seated next to the Mayor was proactive and intervened to say our concerns will be looked into.

Read more: CMDA’s public consultation on Third Master Plan leaves little room for residents’ voices

How can Makkalai Thedi Mayor be improved?

Going by the tagline “Makkalai Thedi Mayor”, we were under the impression the Mayor would take the trouble of visiting the neighbourhoods in the city to meet the people but that was not the case here.

Based on our experience, we would like to share the following suggestions to improve the efficacy of the scheme and ensure that the concerns of the residents are addressed. 

Better systems must be put in place for residents to be able to meet the Mayor. Issuing tokens and following the system throughout or a registration number can ensure that the petitioners meet the Mayor on a first-come-first-served basis.

crowded rooms in makkalai thedi mayor event
The build-up of a crowd as a result of not following the token system can be avoided. Pic: Raghukumar C

Seating arrangements must be modified to ensure that the queue is adhered to. Much like how we waited for our turn during the COVID vaccination drives, waiting lines must be established.

We noticed that several petitioners had come to the event to address issues which were private or personal. It would have been best if they had allotted half a day for issues of public interest to be raised by civil society groups and Residents’ Welfare Associations and half a day for individual petitioners.

Petitioners having affiliations with political parties and those with connections to those in power were seen bypassing the queue at the event. Going forward it would be best if petitioners are allowed to meet the Mayor purely on a first-come-first-served basis. 

At the meeting hall, we also noticed several officials from the Greater Chennai Corporation seated around the conference table. But their presence was futile as the petitioners only got assurance that their issues will be addressed but none were addressed on the spot. Their time would be better served on the ground instead. 

We also noticed several Government & private vehicles and two-wheelers parked on either side of Strahans Road obstructing the free flow of traffic. It would be best to arrange for such large-scale meetings in locations where parking space is not a constraint.

There were several senior citizens and differently-abled persons at the venue. While the differently-abled were allowed to meet the Mayor on priority, the senior citizens had to wait for hours. Provisions could have been made at the venue to provide water, tea or biscuits to the senior citizens and others such as diabetics with special needs.

While petitioners refrained from taking photographs, those on the dias could be seen using the event more as a photo opportunity than addressing the grievances of the people. 

While it is appreciable that the scheme provides a platform for residents to raise their issues in person, how the Makkalai Thedi Mayor meetings are being held leaves a lot to be desired. 

Making the experience seamless and hassle-free will be important to encourage more residents to participate in the effort. 

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