Councillor Talk: Chennai’s youngest Councillor Priyadharshini wants Ward 98 to be the best in education

Priyadharshini has been focussed on improving amenities in Corporation-run schools and taking up flood mitigation measures in Ward 98.

“I studied in a government school and grew up in a place where there were no basic amenities. So I know the struggles of the people in my Ward through lived experience and I strive to make life easy for them,” says A Priyadharshini of Ward 98 in Chennai, the youngest Councillor in Chennai.

Politics is very much part of Priyadharshini’s family.

“Both my mother and father are members of the Communist Party of India(Marxist) for more than 25 years. I was also part of the Students Federation of India (SFI) during my school days. Later, during my college days, I became the Treasurer of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) attached to the CPI(M) for the Anna Nagar region in Chennai. That was the first time I held the position of an office bearer. Later, I also became the Secretary of the Anna Nagar DYFI. At this point, the urban local body polls were announced and my party – CPI (M) gave me a chance to contest in the polls from Ward 98 in Chennai,” she says recalling her political journey.

Ward 98

  • Name of Councillor: A Priyadharshini
  • Party: CPI(M)
  • Age: 23
  • Educational Qualification: MA Sociology
  • Contact: 9445467098 / 8939545382

ward 98
Map of Ward 98. Source: Greater Chennai Corporation

Primary goals for Ward 98

As the Councillor for Ward 98, what have you been able to achieve in the past year?

I have finished almost 50% of the poll promises I made. For over 20 years, there was no drinking water connection for around 35 households on KH Road. This area was initially in Ward 96. Following the delimitation process that was carried out ahead of the elections, the area came to be under Ward 98. As soon as I was elected, I took up this issue and sorted it out in a week.

There is a higher secondary school in Ward 98. A whole block in the school was locked as the EVM machines used for Assembly Polls were stored in the classrooms. Due to the space crunch, the school started seeing a drop in admissions. As soon as I assumed office, I took steps to clear the EVM machines from the school. As a result of this, student enrollment for this academic year has increased in the school. There was also a primary school in Ward 98, which was demolished earlier but was awaiting reconstruction. A sum of Rs 2.1 crore has been allocated for this and the reconstruction is likely to be completed in a month. Once the building is open, we are hoping the admissions will increase in the primary school too.

Ten parks in the ward have also undergone renovation.

How do you interact with the constituents of Ward 98? What kind of outreach activities have you held so far?

I usually share my contact number with the public wherever I go and I respond to the calls no matter what time it is. There is a ten-member team in my office from my party. Even in my absence, the team will attend to public grievances immediately. Akin to how we went door by door seeking votes from the public, we go door by door to ask for their grievances.

We make a schedule to visit at least one street on a given day to listen to public grievances. After noting down the complaints, we coordinate with concerned officials and sort out the issue. We have also created a WhatsApp group to which the residents are added. We respond to complaints raised in the group instantly.

Issues in Ward 98

What are the major issues in Ward 98? What kind of measures have you taken for this?

From my interactions with the public during the election campaign, I came to know that there were two major issues in Ward 98 of Chennai – most of the residents in this region did not have drinking water connections and there is knee-deep stagnant water in many areas, particularly in VP Colony, during every monsoon.

Since my election, I have been concentrating on these two issues. Work is underway to provide drinking water connections to the residents. Work on stormwater drains is also underway in the area now. I will consider it a major success when these projects are completed.

Read more: Looking beyond stormwater drains to realise the dream of a flood-free Chennai

How have you used your Ward Development Fund of Rs 35 lakhs?

The Ward Development Fund was allocated to develop two playgrounds in Ward 98. We also renovated a gym in Thiruvalluvar Nagar and a park in KH Nagar that was having poor amenities. Footfall in this park has increased considerably after the renovation.

Our focus was on improving the amenities in schools and parks. Since we require more time and funds for improving the amenities in schools, we focused on the parks on playgrounds initially.

Vision for Ward 98

What do you hope to achieve in your term as Councillor?

Since I studied in a government school, I know the lack of facilities in government schools. There were times when I wished I had more amenities in my schools that could have helped my education. My aim now is to make the schools in Ward 98 the best among the other schools in the 200 Wards of Chennai. I also hope to start a government coaching centre for the government school children in Ward 98 to prepare for competitive exams.

A Priyadharshini Ward 98 Councillor
A Priyadharshini, Councillor of Ward 98 inspecting civic works in her jurisdiction. Pic: A Priyadharshini

Having known the difficulties a family could face due to lack of access to basic amenities like water, I want all the essential amenities to be in place for my people.

Read more: Irregular water supply not just a seasonal issue for many Chennai families

What is your vision for Chennai?

A lot of good schemes are brought by the government but the schemes are not reaching all the people. I think the government should focus on ensuring the schemes reach all the beneficiaries.

In recent times, a lot of evictions are happening in Chennai. Even the people who have been living in a place for generations are thrown out of their lands as they were not given a patta. These vulnerable people should be identified, enumerated and given patta with immediate effect. Else, we will only end up creating more homeless people in Chennai.

You were detained by the police for screening a banned documentary titled India: The Modi Question and protesting against the Union government’s decision to block links to the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi. Do you think the city has space for dissent?

As a citizen of India, all of us have the right to express our thoughts. Unfortunately, we live in a country where even the elected representatives have to face backlash for holding an opinion, let alone the public. It is the same case with the city.

How accommodative is the Greater Chennai Corporation Council to dissent?

I have so far not faced any issues inside the GCC Council in expressing dissent. I have been given my space to operate in the capacity of a Councillor of Ward 98. The officials immediately respond to any correspondence sent from my office. I can see that there are a lot of expectations from the people and the Council as I am the youngest Councillor.

As the youngest Councillor, how has your experience been so far?

As the youngest Councillor, I get a lot of attention from both the public and the media. Even if I do something small, it is being noticed. While I am glad that people recognise my work, I also know it comes with a lot of responsibility. Just like how people recognise the good things I do, people will also notice even if I make a slight mistake. So, I am more conscious that I should use the opportunity to serve the public responsibly.

What are your thoughts on young people coming to politics?

Politics is very much a part of our lives. Even if we try to stay away from it, it is going to be in our lives. Only when we actively participate in politics, we will be able to demand our rights. I will encourage youngsters to come to politics, as it is the only way to create a more significant change.

Unemployment continues to be a major issue in the city as well as the country. Given the situation, what are your thoughts on Councillors not being given a monthly salary, especially when you are a youngster?

All of us have families to look after. The work of Ward Councillors is no less than the work of a Member of the Legislative Assembly or a Member of the Parliament and so the Councillors should be given a monthly salary. I thank the Tamil Nadu government for announcing a monthly honorarium of Rs 10,000 for the Councillors. It is a good first step but it is not sufficient. Fixing a salary will also help in eradicating corruption at the grassroots level.

What the residents of Ward 98 say:

Prashanth R, a resident of Ward 98, says that the major issue in the region is water stagnation during rains. “We have been having knee-deep water for almost every monsoon. Though we have petitioned the corporation officials numerous times seeking a permanent solution, it has not been of avail. After the Councillor assumed office, we have seen the commencement of stormwater drain works. While the works are still underway, I hope this comes as a permanent solution,” he says.

Priya, a student from the government higher secondary school in Ward 98, says that after the block that was closed for storing EVM machines was opened, they have a lot more classroom space. While the amenities in school have improved, she says that the basic amenities for households should also be improved.

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