Elections 2024: What Chennai residents and civic groups want their MPs to address

Civic organisations in Chennai have voiced several concerns and put forward demands for clean air, better mobility, housing and fisher welfare.

With the 2024 Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the candidates contesting in the polls are busy campaigning to garner votes. Every one of them makes their poll promises during these campaigns, but very few of these are fulfilled in reality. Voters in the city want pending issues to be addressed. Meanwhile, various civic groups in the city have a plethora of demands that they are putting forward for the political parties and their candidates representing the different constituencies in Chennai.

Here are a few such demands that the civic groups in Chennai would like to highlight for the progress of the city—

Upgradation of Chennai Airport

The Central government announced Parandur as the location of the greenfield airport for Chennai in August 2022 and it was proposed to be constructed by acquiring land from 20 villages in the vicinity. Opposing this project, the villagers who have been protesting continuously, have decided to boycott the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Dayanand Krishnan, A GIS consultant based in Chitlapakkam says that the Mumbai Airport also has a similar crossing runway and land areas like Chennai Airport.

“While Mumbai operates as many as 1,000 flights, Chennai Airport operates only 400 flights. There is no technical reason why they are unable to operate more flights from the existing airport. CMDA has demarcated around 1,100 to 1,200 acres for a parallel runway in the land use map. The Airport Authority of India (AAI) should first consider using this land for the extension and operation of more flights before mulling over shifting the airport,” he says.

According to Dayanand, Parandur has several water bodies and any construction there can have a huge ecological impact. “Instead the AAI can consider moving the proposed greenfield airport project to Pannur.”

The domestic usage in Chennai Airport is 72%. A low-cost flight from Chennai to Delhi costs about Rs. 4,500. “If we shift the airport to Parandur, the passengers will be forced to spend Rs 2,000 just for a cab to the airport, making the total travel cost quite high,” he adds.

Demands of Chennai fishers

K Bharadhi, President of Neidhal Makkal Katchi, a political party of fishers in Tamil Nadu, points out that the major political parties in Tamil Nadu or the country neither gave representation to the people from the fishing community nor addressed their issues in Parliament.

“Elected representatives from Tamil Nadu rarely voiced our issues in Parliament when the draft National Fisheries Policy, 2021 was formulated. Even MPs who raised questions about the policy only asked for changes and did not oppose it strongly. We oppose the policy terms as they do not make a distinction between catamarans, fibre boats and big ships. That’s like registering a two-wheeler and a heavy vehicle as the same. The elected representatives are not aware of this,” he says.

One of the demands for North Chennai is the development of the Kasimedu fishing harbour. “Funds have been allocated for infrastructure development but that won’t help the fishers. Instead, the government should declare the Kasimedu fishing harbour as the ‘Sea park for exports.’ Even an ordinary fisher in Kerala can export the fish but we are unable to do it here,” he says adding that an ordinary fisher, who catches the fish from the sea should be able to export them in Chennai.

Thousands of fishers have also made huge investment in boats and nets from Triplicane to Thiruvanmiyur.

“We have our markets here and we should be allowed to do our business peacefully in the same place where we have been doing it for generations. We want the government to announce the area between Triplicane and Thiruvanmiyur as a protected zone for fishing and fishing-related works,” says Bharadhi.

CMDA recently released a map of the areas that will be severely affected by sea erosion between 2050 and 2100 due to climate change. The fishing community feels the government should stop new housing projects in the areas specified by the CMDA.

But government projects are rarely planned keeping such concerns in mind. A 5-km radius of the patta land near the sea in North Chennai has been affected by sea erosion. This was primarily due to the project brought in the name of development in Chennai Port. The people who lost their patta lands have not been given alternative lands to this date. The traditional fishers in the locality have been facing huge challenges to make ends meet.

“The elected representative should ensure that the people who lost their lands to sea erosion should get an alternative patta land and take steps to improve the livelihood of the fishers in North Chennai,” he says.

Read more: Why Chennai fisherfolk oppose the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan

Demands for a better environment in Chennai

Meanwhile, the Chennai Climate Action Group (CCAG), a youth-led organisation in Chennai that works on environmental issues has put forward five demands:

Ennore thermal power plants
People of four villages in and around Ennore have decided to boycott the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to protest government inaction against the Coromandel International Limited plant (CIL) for causing the gas leak in December 2023. Pic: Shobana Radhakrishnan
  • Industries and Pollution: Given the importance of Ennore-Pulicat wetlands, the high erosion coastline of North Chennai and Tiruvallur, the high density of polluting industries and unabated environment violations by them, we demand that the proposal by Adani Group for the expansion of Kattupalli port be scrapped. Allow no further industrial expansion in North Chennai, especially in the Ennore-Manali region.
  • Health and Air: Direct the Health Officer of Greater Chennai Corporation and other relevant departments to implement the ‘TN Public Health Act’ to ensure that health of locals is not compromised by polluting industries. Air pollution should be declared as a health emergency. There should be increased air monitoring (from the current 8 monitoring meters), functional Online Continuous Emission/Effluent monitoring Systems (OCEMS) and suitable action on priority.
  • Water: Protect the wetlands, including Manali-Ennore-Pulicat wetlands, Pallikaranai Marsh, and Parandur and coastal commons i.e. beaches, like our own lives. Wetlands provide flood mitigation and recharge the groundwater. Beaches are critical barriers against saltwater intrusion in the ground. No commercial or public project should be deemed more important than preserving these water bodies. Assess Chennai’s water needs and increase water resources by adopting a mix of traditional conservation practices and modern technology.
  • Protect the City: Declare Chennai as a ‘climate change induced disaster-prone city.’ Take up initiatives to encourage use of public transport; train frontline workers and ensure safety and fair compensation for them; involve locals in disaster preparedness. Protect biodiversity, including birds that migrate to wetlands.
  • Waste Management: Encourage waste segregation, recycling and disposal. Improve sewerage management of the city, stop unscientific disposal and discharge into Chennai’s rivers and wetlands. Ensure illegal practices of manual cleaning are abolished through strict enforcement.

Demands for better mobility in Chennai

Streets are currently designed for motor vehicles. “We need streets that ensure safe mobility of all users and prioritise sustainable mobility i.e. walking, cycling, and public transport. The design of streets, how spaces are used etc need to be seen from this perspective,” says Sowmya K, a researcher from Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG).

Sowmya also puts forth the following demands for sustainable and safe mobility in Chennai:

  • Network of usable footpaths: We need good footpaths, safe at-grade pedestrian crossing as per IRC guidelines and suitable shade and other infrastructure to make walking safe, easy, and comfortable for all.
  • Planning roads for all: Streets are public and community spaces. A liveable, usable street would also entail other uses sports, community interaction and space for small vendors, who eke out a living but also bring much-needed services/goods to our doorstep. They also act as ‘eyes on the street’ making the space safer for vulnerable users like women and children. 
  • Adequate bicycle infrastructure: Drawing a single line on the road isn’t enough. Bicycle lanes must be visibly demarcated and separated from the vehicle lane and adequate bicycle parking spaces must be provided in all public spaces.
  • Increase in bus fleets: Our cities currently have inadequate bus fleets of mostly old buses. The Government of India has set a benchmark of 60 buses per lakh population. We must meet that benchmark to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, reduce traffic congestion, air and noise pollution and road traffic deaths.
  • Regular updates on public transport information: Local transport authorities must provide information on public transport (routes, timings, fares, interchanges, etc) regularly through websites, apps, posters in bus stations, verbal announcements etc including routes changes.

Read more: Revisiting Chennai’s Non-Motorised Transport Policy

For better housing facilities for Chennai’s poor

According to statistical evidence, Tamil Nadu has one of the highest numbers of urban homeless individuals in the country, with an estimated 63,000 homeless people in the state as of 2019. Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY/NULM) a Centre-sponsored scheme, enables urban, marginalised communities to access gainful self-employment and skilled wage employment opportunities, leading to an improvement in their livelihoods. It also addresses the needs of the urban homeless population.

Vanessa Peter, Founder of the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), notes that the operation and management costs of Shelters for Urban Homeless, which have been functioning for more than 5 years are not being supported by the Central Government under DAY-NULM. The allocation of the budget has been revised and reduced from 77.98 crores to 59.21 crores for the year 2022-2023 and further to 0.01 crores (2023-24). “The non-allocation of funds for the DAY/NULM scheme means that many homeless individuals in Tamil Nadu are unable to access basic services such as shelter, healthcare, and education,” she explains, adding the following demands

  • Develop and implement the state-specific plan with adequate budgetary provisions to sustain the 324 shelters (247 shelters are constructed and 77 are under construction) sanctioned in several cities and municipalities of the state including Chennai.
  • Allocate funds that will cover the Operation and Management (O&M) cost of each shelter for five years as mentioned under the scheme guidelines. Make provisions for their continued sustainability.
  • Ensure housing schemes such as DAY-NULM safeguard the right to a dignified life for vulnerable communities in urban areas.

Under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana (PMAY-U) scheme, the most vulnerable groups in urban areas like the homeless, trans persons and persons with disability are unable to pay beneficiaries’ contributions. “This calls for an inclusive and functional policy to provide completely subsided houses for these groups living in vulnerable situations,” Vanessa adds.

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