Explained: How GCC administers the city and why we need an elected council
“The people of Chennai have almost forgotten what it’s like to have an elected representative from their neighborhood,” jokes Charu Govindan, coordinator of Chennai-based citizens’ group, Voice of People. Charu was referring to how the city has deprived itself of an elected local council for an entire term since 2016. Although the official website of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) still indicates that the administrative structure includes a council of 200 councilors, headed by a mayor, this has not been the case for the past five years. Elections for local bodies have not taken place since the expiration of the term of the last council.
During this period, i.e. since October 2016, the GCC, the civic body that governs the capital of Tamil Nadu, has been administered by a body of officials headed by a commissioner, who is an officer of the IAS. This is not the first time, however, that the GCC, which is also India’s oldest municipal institution, has operated in the absence of an elected council. In 1973, when the government of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was in power in the state, the Chennai Society Council was suspended following the appeal lists scandal. The administration of the company then, as it is today, was entrusted to a special officer of the IAS executive.
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It continued to function under the direction of bureaucrats for over twenty years, until 1996, when the DMK government returned to power in the state and ordered civic elections to be held. Likewise, with the DMK taking over state government in May this year, the cabinet headed by Deputy Stalin called for polls of various local state bodies.
With elections on the cards, it is important for us as citizens to understand how the city is divided for administrative purposes, the areas or neighborhoods we belong to and, more importantly, how society functions in Namma. Chennai.
As mentioned earlier, unlike many cities in states like Kerala or Karnataka, the Corporation of Chennai has not been run by a mayor for the past five years and instead was administered by a bureaucrat, called the Corporation’s commissioner. .
The Commissioner is further assisted in the administrative process by various Deputy Commissioners and Joint Commissioners, who are in charge of various departments such as health, works, education, income and finance etc. These officials are also, most often, officers in the civil service.
Zones and neighborhoods
Now, for the purposes of administration, the city is divided into three regions: North Chennai, Central Chennai and South Chennai. These three regions are divided into 15 zones, made up of 200 neighborhoods. The different zones which fall under the three regions and the respective district numbers in each zone are:
I. Thiruvottiyur: 1 to 14
II. Manali: 15 to 21
III. Madhavaram: 22 to 33
IV. Tondiarpet: 34 to 48
V. Royapuram: 49 to 63
VI. Thiru Vi Ka Nagar: 64 to 78
VII. Ambattur: 79 to 93
VIII. Anna Nagar: 94 to 108
IX. Teynampet: 109 to 126
X. Kodambakkam: 127 to 142
XI. Valasaravakkam: 143 to 155
XII. Alandur: 156 to 167
XIII. Adyar: 170 to 182
XIV. Perungudi: 168, 169, 183 to 191
XV. Sholinganallur: 192 to 200
For each of these three regions, there is a regional deputy commissioner in charge, who is further assisted by zone officers at the zone level and assistant engineers at the district level. When an elected council was present, each of these 200 wards elected a representative or a councilor, who would act as a bridge between the residents of that district and the Corporation.
There was also a neighborhood committee system in each of the 15 zones, where councilors from the respective neighborhoods used to discuss various issues in their zones to be presented to the mayor at corporate council meetings.
The GCC, created in 1688 (then Corporation of Madras), is the institution that maintains the city’s street lights, cleanliness and hygiene, drainage systems, numerous roads and crossroads, parks and several public spaces, registration and issuance of birth and death certificates etc.
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However, with the presence of various levels of parliamentary and local administration, many citizens still do not know who to turn to for what. For example, Charu says that during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, several residents complained to candidate MPs about local issues such as inappropriate street lights or poor road conditions, which are usually under the control of the local administration. .
It is therefore useful to understand the different departments of the GCC and their respective functions.
Ministry of Revenue
Under the supervision of a revenue officer, it is the service which is responsible for the collection of property tax, business tax, advertising tax, collection of parking fees and other taxes. It is also this service that should be contacted for questions concerning the change of name of property ownership.
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Issues such as town planning, which includes sanctioning and approval of construction plans, issues related to electricity such as maintenance of lampposts, laying of cables, solid waste management, construction of public infrastructure and storm sewer matters all fall under the Department of Works. Each of these issues also has a superintendent engineer assigned who is an expert in that particular area.
Department of Health
Under the supervision of a municipal health / medical officer, it is the service that takes care of the administration of dispensaries, public health, sanitation, prevention of food adulteration, issuance of birth and death certificates, etc.
This department is responsible for the administration of schools – from elementary to upper secondary, community colleges and nutritious meal centers. It is headed by a pedagogical manager.
In the presence of an elected council, there was a Standing Committee for each of these departments. These standing committees were headed by a president elected by the councilors. These committees used to meet monthly and pass a resolution that was sent to Council for approval.
The need for an elected council
In a system of local self-government, the representatives of the people, or in the case of a municipal corporation, elected councilors serve as a link between the residents of a particular neighborhood and the officials of the corporation. Thus, the duty of the counselor is to address the problems of residents living in his neighborhood to the council of the society or to bring it to the responsible responsible and settle it.
However, in the case of Chennai, where there was no elected council, residents had to approach company officials directly to find solutions to various problems in their locality. This kind of system, according to citizen activists, lacks accountability, since the authorities are not directly elected by the people and are therefore not accountable to them.
“For example, if there is a problem with road repairs in a certain area and residents want to file a complaint about it or bring it to the attention of authorities, they find it difficult. to do so because those who come to work are the contractors and not the officials of the Company. They cannot interview sub-contractors, who only carry out instructions from senior officers. And people don’t have the time and energy to find out who these officers are and prosecute them either. This is where you need an elected representative. People can go and complain to their municipal councilor, who in turn will take the matter to the respective officials, ”Charu explains.
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Another problem concerns the transparency of the operation. Residents are often told through the media of huge amounts of funds being allocated to various projects such as sidewalks and roads in their neighborhoods, although they may in fact have a more pressing and urgent need for something else.
For example, the inhabitants of a locality may urgently need a site for decentralized solid waste treatment or they may need to repair the road, but they may wake up one morning to find that the money is spent on unnecessary or foreign projects such as painting walls, changing name panels, etc.
“There is no transparent system to know the budget of the services and how it is used. There is no participatory budget, ”says Charu, who also adds that a representative of the people will not make everything perfect, but at least there would be a system to hold the representatives accountable and question them when they come back. people to ask for votes.
The same thoughts were reiterated by Radhakrishnan, an activist of Arappor Iyakkam. “When it comes to various civic issues, we need to approach the assistant engineers in charge of our service. But they may not be able to address our concerns as they have multiple operational tasks to perform. But if we can inform the adviser, he / she could pressure the officials in the company to make sure the citizens’ concerns are sorted out, ”says Radhakrishnan.
“Perfectly fine without an elected council”
While many expressed concerns about the lack of an elected local body, some residents said they found it easier to voice their grievances through representatives of the Society. “You can’t get advisers to solve a problem. Without their interference now, we are able to directly contact those responsible and resolve our issues, ”said VS Jayaraman, president of the T Nagar Residents Welfare Association.
Jayaraman says that the local self-government system is ideally suited in a democracy but for this he also adds that, “for this, the councilors should also make sure that they do their job well, consult the inhabitants regularly, find out the problems they are facing. and address it to the board, which most of them don’t.