Water, a burning issue in Tamil Nadu's Sriperumbudur

People in the constituency want their MP to initiate restoration of waterbodies which have been encroached upon over the years
Image used for representational purpose only
Image used for representational purpose only

Being a stone’s throw away from Chennai, the Sriperumbudur Lok Sabha constituency has a confluence of rural and urban characteristics. Tech parks and shopping complexes at Alandur, Pallavaram and Tambaram quickly fade into the agricultural fields and industries of  Sriperumbudur, Maduravoyal and Ambattur.  

Despite the drastic change in settings, these areas share a common problem – water – or rather the lack of it, which has become the big issue for the coming elections.

The city’s southern suburbs, Tambaram, Pallavaram and Alandur, are supplied water from the Palar river, but water supply is irregular for 10 months in a year. Promises by successive governments over the last decade to improve the supply have fallen flat and people are realising that time has come to look inward for water.

“There was abundance of lakes and ponds in the suburbs, but most of them have fallen victims to encroachment. People want a comprehensive restoration of water bodies in order to avoid complete depletion of groundwater levels like certain parts of the city,” said M Shreeram of Adambakkam, who claimed that the PMK-AIADMK alliance candidate has promised to help restore waterbodies.  
Water crisis in suburbs

Express has repeatedly reported how acute water crisis is an issue in Pallavaram and Tambaram. Even Manimangalam village, which has one of the biggest lakes in the region, is reeling under water crisis. “As rain failed, farmers are pumping lake water for agriculture. Soon, we will not have any water to drink,”  said S Anbu of Manimangalam.

Residents of villages at Sriperumbudur also claim that lack of water is a major issue for farmers in the area who depend on rain for irrigation. The Sriperumbudur lake is a viable lifeline, but it is bone dry and requires deepening to carry water throughout the year.

Despite being a State issue, calls for upgrading Tambaram municipality into a corporation have got louder this election season. Tambaram MLA S R Raja raised this demand in the Assembly in January and it has become an issue that both DMK candidate T R Baalu and PMK-AIADMK nominee A Vaithilingam are being forced to address.

“Tambaram is out of space for this upgrade. In order to achieve this demand, the MP should pave way for relocating the 20-acre defence quarters that occupies prime area in Tambaram,” said P Damodaran, a former municipal councillor of Mudichur, claiming people are also yearning for a sports facility of the quality of Chepauk or Nehru stadium in the suburbs.

Traffic congestion, lack of infrastructure at Ambattur and Sriperumbudur are other poll issues in the region. “Most of the localities have narrow mud roads and people are asking for pucca roads,” said a DMK functionary, claiming closure of factories without notice and unemployment is another major poll issue in the region.

The Sriperumbudur parliamentary constituency has been a DMK bastion for the last two decades until K R Ramachandran, sitting AIADMK MP posted a surprise victory in 2014. 

The urban Assembly constituencies – Tambaram, Pallavaram and Alandur –have DMK MLAs and DMK lost the other three constituencies – Ambattur, Sriperumbudur and Maduravoyal – to AIADMK by narrow margins in 2016.

Fight with multiple factors
This seems to be one of the reasons behind fielding their headquarters secretary  and DMK heavyweight T R Baalu  from Sriperumbudur. While Baalu has the advantage of having won in Sriperumbudur in 2009, AMMK might eat into his vote bank this time, making for a close contest with his AIADMK-PMK counterpart, A Vaithilingam, a doctor-turned- politician debutante, who is said to be close to Anbumani Ramadoss, MP.

“Baalu is a Thevar and AMMK, which is increasingly becoming a party which represents the Thevars, will eat into Baalu’s caste votes,” said a senior politician from Tambaram.

The DMK’s ‘anti-Hindu’ image which the AIADMK-BJP combine is using to their advantage will also affect Baalu in Brahmin dominated areas of Alandur and Nanganallur. “Though the suburbs have always been a DMK stronghold, the Hindu bashing on social media will favour the BJP,” said Shreeram of Adambakkam.  

However, the DMK will continue to hold the votes of Christian and Muslim minorities in the region. “The anti-beef attitude of BJP will ensure the PMK will not get the votes of Muslims because our trade is dependent on it,” said a Biryani shop owner at Alandur.

Dalit votes in the constituency will invariably decide the winner. “There are many Dalit outfits in the region, but they don’t enjoy any considerable patronage. Our people will vote for either DMK or AIADMK,” said Prabhu.

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