CHENNAI : A constituency that has seen merely five elections in its electoral history, Tiruvallur, despite its proximity to Chennai is crying for better healthcare, transport, drainage and water facilities.
AIADMK and its candidate P Venugopal had won in the constituency both in 2009 and 2014. With the ‘Jayalalithaa wave’ becoming a thing of the past and the wounds from demonetisation still fresh, the party is setting itself up for a tough fight this time around.
“This is a constituency where we do not have to rely on our allies PMK or BJP to win, although the district has some Vanniyar population; we are strong enough here to win without their help,” said an AIADMK cadre from Tiruvallur. While this may or may not be the case, the party’s alliance choice may be detrimental to their victory, in some rural pockets. “If something like the demonetisation happens again, we will not be able to bear it.
We have moved on from the ordeal, but we have not forgotten it,” said Salamma T, a farm hand at Vengal. A single woman, she earns Rs 120 for working in the farm from 9am to 2pm each day. At the time of demonetisation, her savings from over seven years had been in cash.
In Tiruvallur taluk alone, there are 31,402 farmhands and 9,666 cultivators, according to data from the agriculture department. While this may work out to be in DMK- Congress’s favour, Congress candidate K Jayakumar is yet to gain visibility over two-time MP Venugopal. Although a native of Tiruvallur, Jayakumar had spent a large part of recent years in Delhi. Many of the residents that Express spoke to in Tiruvallur said they did not know the Congress candidate’s name.
DMK workers said this was simpler of their two worries. “There is a conspiracy against us. We are being unfairly targeted and cash is being seized from us (DMK and its allies). The AIADMK is in a position to use cash to turn things around in their favour, in the last minute,” said a DMK functionary at Avadi.
Utilisation of MPLADS
In his last term, Venugopal had undertaken 174 works at a cost of Rs 3,06,27,573 from his total allocation of Rs 19.03 crores. He had taken up works estimated to cost around Rs 6,97,97,000 and had later returned Rs 3,91,69,427 to the district nodal officer. This shines in comparison to his AIADMK peers like Jayavardhan Jayakumar who had completed merely six works in his five year term (at a cost of around Rs 40 lakh) out of which five were to purchase books for students of various government schools.
Water and transport issues
Tiruvallur’s proximity to Chennai, in some ways, has added to its problems, said residents. Rapid industrialisation and growing land value has resulted in a reduction in the extent of agricultural lands over the years.Out of the total 3,42,243 hectares in Tiruvallur, 35 per cent comes under cultivated area. “Apart from this, this is a district that has ample groundwater, which has been channelised to Chennai. We are left with no water to drink,” said Mahendran A of Avadi. Residents in Avadi, who could not afford the bubble tops sold at Rs 30 each, said they purchase pots of water for Rs 8 each from tankers that illegally tap groundwater.
“We are fully aware that the water is taken illegally from Kannapalayam area but if these tankers do not come, we do not have water,” said Shanmugapriya J, a resident. An underground sewage system, which is lacking in these parts, was proposed by the then DMK government at a cost of Rs 156.74 crores. Over 10 years later, only three wards in Avadi are connected to the underground sewage network.
The primary irrigation sources are wells and borewells owing to the availability of groundwater. Canal irrigation is practised only in areas like Minjur and Sholavaram. But, in the constituency that relies heavily on groundwater, the water was found to be contaminated by heavy metals beyond permissible limits, according to a Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) study. Roads in parts of Thirumullaivoyal, including areas around Saraswathi Nagar,have not been relaid in 20 years, said residents.
“If I start in the morning, it takes me at least 35 minutes to go from Ambattur to Villivakkam. The traffic congestion in the area is very high,” said Parthiban T, a resident of Tiruvallur. Although a Government hospital functions at Tiruvallur, the quality of care is yet to match up to Chennai, said residents. “There is a notion among people here that if we are looking to save a patient’s life, he should be taken to the Government hospital in Chennai.
But, time will not allow it in most cases,” said Ilango, a resident of Gummidipoondi. The recent wave of attention on waterbodies witnessed in Chennai, especially after the 2015 floods, is yet to catch up here, residents said, with waterbodies disappearing from plain sight.