Let’s start with the pressing issue of waste management. Do you think the government has failed in coming up with a solution after the Brahmapuram incident?
My opinion at the meeting convened post-Brahmapuram fire was that it will be very difficult for people to switch to an alternative system (source-level waste treatment) in a short time. It took six years for Eloor municipality to implement source-level waste treatment. It took over four years for 60% of the residents of Maradu municipality to switch.
Wasn’t the Brahmapuram disaster a collective failure? Past councils too overlooked the issues…
When I was the deputy mayor, we followed three measures to control fire to some extent at Brahmapuram. We had set up nine hydrants at the site, and divided the heap of waste into sectors so that fire force vehicles could reach inside the dump yard. We used to sprinkle water over these waste heaps as a preventive measure during summers. The present council did nothing along these lines.
There were allegations that then collector Dr Renu Raj was transferred due to her inefficiency...
The approach of the district administration at the initial stage was not up to the mark. When I was the deputy mayor, I once received a call at 3 am alerting me about the fire at the dump site. When I reached the spot by 5 am, the then collector Mohammed Y Safirulla was already there, managing the situation. I have never seen any collector handle such matters as well as he did.
There is talk that LDF and UDF will hush up the Brahmapuram issue…
No. We held several protests. Currently, former mayor Tony Chammany is pursuing the matter legally.
Mayor M Anilkumar, in a recent Kochi Dialogues session, said a ‘mafia’ was trying to sabotage waste management in the city...
I don’t know if there are any such ‘mafias’. Only he would know (smiles).
The mayor also alleged that Tony Chammany’s policy was to increase waste generation in the city for the proposed waste-to-energy plant. What’s your take?
He is trying to mislead the public. Mayor Anilkumar has done nothing to reduce the amount of waste generated in the city. What new waste management project did he implement?
The mayor says he has a good rapport with people’s representatives and bureaucrats. Do you agree?
At a personal level, yes. However, the mayor hasn’t invited me or the MP even once to discuss the waste management issues in Kochi.
You have worked with several mayors. Who would you rate as the best so far?
I would say Somasundara Panicker. He had a vision and was practical by nature. He was approachable to everyone.
Waterlogging is another issue. Several projects have been discussed. What is the solution?
Without removing the encroachment and widening the main canals, all efforts will be in vain. A canal rejuvenation proposal worth Rs 1,500 crore was planned. But the government is still sitting on it, citing fund crunch.
Will there be waterlogging as we saw in 2019?
Can’t be ruled out. It is unpredictable.
Kochi is yet to get a new slaughterhouse…
It comes under the corporation. According to the KIIFB project report, there is space for a modern slaughterhouse in Kaloor. They have submitted a project report of Rs 30 crore. It’s a good one. The corporation has to implement it.
The KSRTC bus stand badly needs a makeover…
A decision has been taken to utilise the eight-acre land belonging to KSRTC. Three to four acres will be handed over to the Mobility Hub to build a bus stand in Karikkamuri. CSML has promised `12 crore for the project. We are awaiting government approval.
Was this your proposal?
Yes, I have been working for it since 2019. The mayor and MP also support the idea.
Kochi Metropolitan Transport Authority was another ambitious project inaugurated in 2020. Now it is not functional...
Such a body is vital for an integrated transport system. The bill was passed in the assembly. But, true, it did not function as expected. The government-appointed committee does not include political representatives; only the mayor is there. At least the MLAs should be included. There are no officers or employees. I have raised this issue in the assembly as well.
Since the corporation’s new building is coming up, will the old construction be put to some other use? Earlier, there was a discussion to hand it over to the general hospital...
The corporation has to decide on what it would do with the building. There is another proposal as well – to demolish some existing structures within the hospital compound, and construct an eight-storey building that can accommodate over 300 beds.
As an MLA, in the coming years, what are the priority projects in your mind?
I want the KSRTC bus stand to be prioritised because it is the face of the city. Vaduthala and Atlantis railway overbridges are other key projects. Also, I want Kochi to become a tourist hub, not just a transit point. The place should be transformed in a way that tourists spend at least five days here.
The Maharaja’s College’s Ground is getting a new synthetic track… What about Ambedkar Stadium?
Yes, the stadium is in a run-down state. The area has become a hub of anti-social elements and sex workers. Recently, a youth was murdered in the area. The stadium is under GCDA. There is a proposal to reconstruct the stadium; it needs government approval.
Drugs are another serious issue...
The city has become a hub for drugs. To be frank, making schoolchildren take an oath against narcotics will not help in any way. We need strong police intervention.
You had recently raised the issue of students at the sports hostel in Panampilly Nagar not getting nutritious food…
There are about 75 students there. There are set menus for students, based on their nutritional requirements – milk, meat, eggs, juice, etc. However, for the past four-five days, they have been served only rice and ash gourd curry. Why? Because the government hasn’t provided money to the district sports council, as some discrepancies cropped up.
The district council seems to be in a mess. After this government came to power, there have been six secretaries. All left within months. Currently, Ernakulam doesn’t have a district sports council secretary. This is how we are promoting sports in the district!
If Kochi wants more tourists to come, shouldn’t we also have a safe nightlife?
The city should always be alive. Some past experiments like night shopping failed to click. People go to malls for shopping these days. There needs to be more food and various recreational activities to enhance nightlife. Public transport needs to be there. We have to think in that direction.
The corporation had a plan to open Subhash Park at night to promote nightlife. But even now the park closes by 8 pm...
I think it is because of the anti-social elements.
Can’t we increase night patrolling to make it safer?
Yes… There should be a change. I will discuss the matter with the collector.
Coming to politics, there is a perception that the party does not promote women leaders enough…
The Congress does promote women members, which is why many have been coming forward. Soumini Jain, for instance, was a housewife; we brought her to the limelight. That said, each leader’s longevity depends on their performance. Physical presence in the public sphere is important.
What’s your take on group politics within the Congress?
I don’t find group politics to be an issue unless they become a public talking point. Several groups working in tandem adds vigour at the ground level; it benefits the party.
Have preparations for the general elections begun?
Yes, of course. Hibi Eden will be the candidate. We have started work at the ground level.
And the next assembly election…
(Smiles) Well, there is time.. Three more years to go.