For the last six months, 70-year-old Shanthi Balachander has found walking to a temple just a kilometre from her home an arduous task. She risks life and limb manoeuvering through heavy traffic to get to her destination. The resident of Dhanalakshmi Avenue in Adyar blames the unruly parking on the main road and the encroachment of pavements by hawkers for her difficulties.
In the past, she would have approached local representatives to get such matters resolved. But now, with no Councillor to take her complaint to, Shanthi's situation highlights the large gaps that currently exist in the state's administration due to the long delay in conducting the civic polls.
The civic polls were supposed to be conducted in October 2016, but have been delayed by over eight months now. Back then, the DMK had moved the High Court seeking that the necessary quota for Scheduled Tribes be reserved in the elections. Following this, the AIADMK claims to have approached the Centre for the latest Census records, in order to ensure that sufficient reservations are provided.
The elections were postponed to May. Then, the poll panel asked for an extension, after which the election have now been scheduled for the end of July. But whether or not the polls will be conducted in July remains an open question, say experts.
"The delay is purely political. In fact, this entire problem was started by Jayalalithaa when she was the Chief Minister," says retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam. "She first introduced indirect elections to the Mayor's post that the DMK was hoping to win. After that, she gave only a month's notice for the polls. Her efforts to manipulate the polls resulted in the DMK heading to court to somehow stop the election," he adds.
According to reports, 919 corporation wards, 3,613 municipality wards, 8,279 Town Panchayat wards, 655 District Panchayat wards and 6,471 panchayat union wards are awaiting elections. Over 12,000 Panchayat presidents have also to be elected.
"Local body elections are mandated by the Constitution and must be conducted every five years," says Naresh Gupta, former Chief Election Officer of Tamil Nadu. "After December, the State Election Commission should have conducted polls. But the truth is that all these representatives, even at the panchayat level have political leanings. So, the vision and ultimate purpose of the process is not realised," he adds.
Some experts also believe that the fear of failure could be holding the AIADMK back. "If there is an election now, AIADMK will be decimated," declares Devasahayam. But when asked about the difficulties faced by the common people due to the delay, the former bureaucrat claims, "There are already well-structured government mechanisms to do the work. These Councillors do very little for the people who vote for them anyway.”
The Opposition however does not agree. "If there are no Councillors, there will be no micro-management. There are certain responsibilities that only an elected representative can carry out," argues A Saravanan, spokesperson for the DMK. "The AIADMK is just scared. At the Corporation level symbols play a huge role, and they will be at a disadvantage," he adds, referring to the conflict over the two-leaves symbol.
The ruling party however, alleges that the DMK is responsible for the entire delay. "They went to court with the matter and following that we are trying to ensure that latest census data is available before the elections," says CR Saraswathi, AIADMK spokesperson. "We are trying to figure out how many members of the SC/ST community reside in every ward, so that reservation can be allotted accordingly for polls. Now it depends on how fast the Centre gives us the data," she adds.