The poll battle in Chennai South will see sitting AIADMK MP Jayavardhan Jayakumar facing off against DMK’s Tamilachi Thangapandian.

Ground report Environment womens safety big concerns in Chennai South constituencyKARTY JazZ/ Wikimedia Commons/ CCBYSA3.0
news Lok Sabha 2019 Saturday, April 06, 2019 - 19:53

As the blistering April sun hits the shores along Panaiyur on East Coast Road, fisherfolk are listening in rapt attention as one campaign vehicle after one another passes by. The voters from the Chennai South Lok Sabha constituency have seen heightened activity in their area since polls were announced. "They seem to remember us only when it is election time. When we were shooting from the rooftops about demands as a fishing community no one paid heed. There is only so much you can cheat at the ballot so obviously they need us now," says an agitated Rathnaprabha, a member of the populous fishing community from the southern stretch of the city.

She says, “The fishing community continues to be battered with every natural calamity, whether it is Ockhi or Gaja. We are the first ones to be affected. But the newspapers come and look at us from the outside and it looks to them like nothing is wrong. But look at our damaged boats and nets. We risk our lives to contribute to the economy but our needs are not fulfilled or prioritised.” In November 2017, members of the fisherfolk community wrote to the Centre, seeking to be included in the Scheduled Tribe list. The move was motivated by the community’s demand to assert it rights in Coastal Zone Regulation issues. With the development of private companies and key PSUs along the coasts, the fishing community has protested about the effects to its livelihood.

Chennai South has been an important constituency for the city, representing six assembly segments: Virugambakkam, Saidapet, T Nagar, Mylapore, Velachery and Sholinganallur. The parliamentary constituency has alternated between the ruling AIADMK and the DMK since 1962, with a string of Congress MPs from 1977 to 1989. Over the last two decades, however, the DMK's TR Baalu has emerged victorious from the constituency four times: 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. While Baalu moved to Sriperumbudur constituency in 2009, C Rajendran of the AIADMK defeated DMK’s RS Bharati in the Lok Sabha polls held that year. The seat was retained by the AIADMK in 2014, with Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar's son Jayavardhan Jayakumar winning comfortably.

A full five years later, the constituency, plagued by environmental and safety issues, will witness a contest between sitting MP Jayavardhan and DMK newbie Tamilachi Thangapandian, daughter of former Minister Thangapandian.

(Painted stork at the Pallikarnai marshlands, balajis22_g/ Wikimedia Commons/ CCBYSA4.0)

Never ending woes of the Pallikaranai marsh

Speaking to TNM, environmental conservationist S Kumararaja of the Save Pallikaranai Marshland Forum says that the segregation of waste in the area could be an effective solution to alleviate water woes in this part of the city. In October 2018, the city experienced an unexpected, manmade water crisis when private water tankers and packaged drinking water companies decided to strike, plunging many parts of the city into a drought. Companies had taken issue with the Madras High Court directing authorities concerned not to grant a license, no objection certificate (NOC) or permission to commercial establishments/persons to extract groundwater for commercial usage without inspecting the water flow meter, that allows for fixed water extraction.

The shrinking Pallikaranai marshland, in particular, has come to be exploited by private water tankers.

“1000 acres of the Pallikaranai marshland is protected area now. We have been fighting for this since 2002. Only if the land receives protection under the Forest Act will it be unexploited. We are seeking another 600 acres to be placed under the ambit of the Act. Recently, a private brick manufacturing company has been given permission and they are dumping their unsegregated waste. The current MP has managed to get Rs 1,200 crore for solid waste management in the area but works have not been carried out yet,” he explains.

The surplus water from 16 lakes in the city drains into the marsh, points out Kumararaja. “If wastes are dumped here, like heavy metals, they pollute the water and empty the borewells with their nickel and iron content. It changes to hard water. If the garbage is duly segregated, it can be made into manure and used well. Groundwater is severely affected,” he says.

Speaking to TNM, Chennai South MP Jayavardhan Jayakumar says the focus is on 'holistic, long term solutions’. “For solid waste management, around Rs 1,200 crore worth of projects have been sanctioned for my constituency. Within a period of two to three years, there wouldn't be a problem with garbage segregation. The entire system would be taken care of. Pallikaranai marshland is going to be a part of the preservation. There's going to be a plan which will come up there at the cost of Rs 320 crore.” he says.

However, Murali, an auto driver from Adyar, laments that even the good policies brought under the present dispensation have failed. “Before the plastic ban, everybody was ready to implement it. There was so much talk about what to use instead of plastics. But three months later, nobody cares. Every day I get plastic covers and parcels, people are using it. The authorities should have taken strict action and set an example. That would have taught a lesson but now it is too late. Everyone takes it casually,” he says.

(Bharathmeister/ Wikimedia Commons/ CCBYSA3.0)

Women’s safety

It's been over 15 years since the constituency saw a woman candidate being the frontrunner in the polls. Tamilachi Thangapandian, who reminds voters she is from Neelankarai and thus easily accessible, says that women’s safety is a priority. Citing the naming of the survivor in the Pollachi sexual assault case, Tamilachi says, "DMK doesn't put forth these issues only for elections. Whenever women face humiliation, DMK voices out for them."

Arthi, a software engineer at a private company along Chennai’s IT corridor on Rajiv Gandhi Salai, is making her way home as two-wheeler cadres of the DMDK distribute pamphlets on the road on behalf of the AIADMK MP. She says she commutes by the MRTS across the road on a daily basis and can only hope to wrap up work before the sun goes down.

“It is very creepy when you are not travelling as a group. The MRTS complex covers Thiruvanmiyur, Kasturibai Nagar and Indira Nagar stations and there are large parts not monitored by CCTV camera. During late night or odd hours, it is not an option for women. But we are forced to use it. Even recently, a girl was robbed and sexually harassed there. It stinks of urine all the time and drunk men use it as an overnight shelter. The train may have a ladies’ compartment but the station is a common space and must be safe for all,” she says.

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