Sunday, May 18, 2008

A citizen's initiative yields results

Residents in towns and cities need lung spaces. If Bangalore, Chandigarh and Pune have gardens and parks, Chennai never really had many, and the ones that were there were not in good shape or even used. Things have changed in recent months though, with a few new parks coming up, and, what is heartening, is that these parks are being maintained fairly well and people are rushing to them mornings and evenings.

A park that has caught the fancy of residents in Chennai is the one on Ashok Nagar’s First Avenue. The park came up on what was earlier encroached land, which had a wine shop, a low-class eatery, hutments, and what have you. Thanks to the initiative taken by a few residents in the area, particularly V. Ravichandran, founder-chairman of Citizens Guardian (registered as a trust to take up public issues anywhere in India), the encroachers were finally removed and none other than the Chennai Mayor arrived to inaugurate the park after it was built.

Indeed, Ravichandran shot into limelight in April 2006 when six months after he had filed a public interest litigation against the encroachers, the Madras High Court issued a verdict in his favour ordering the removal of all encroachments. In months, 14 grounds and 1076 sq ft of land turned into a lovely park. “People were ridiculing me then; many were sceptical about the encroachers being evicted. For even the Supreme Court order of 1996 and the Madras High Court order of 2001 had not yielded results,” he tells me.

Ravichandran’s passion for social work began early. When barely out of school, he led a team to the TNEB chairman’s office to complain about electricity problems in the area they resided and managed to get a “permanent remedy”. An active member of the Ashok Nagar Citizens Council, he got a storm-water drain network installed in Ashok Nagar’s 8th and 9th Avenues, after toiling for six years. In February last year, Ravichandran had filed a PIL stating that 18 grounds of the Government Peripheral Hospital in K.K. Nagar have been encroached upon, when the existing facility should be upgraded to include trauma care. This week, Ravichandran filed another PIL, against the State Government and various civic agencies, alleging that the Rs 1,200-crore Chennai City River Water Conservation Project has not achieved its purpose – canals are still polluted, storm-water drain network has not improved – and is a colossal waste of money.

Ravichandran grew up in Ashok Nagar. His father, Viswanathan, was a manager in Bank of India. Ravichandran studied in Shrine Velankanni, T. Nagar; Padma Seshadri, K.K. Nagar; and P.S. High School, Mylapore. After obtaining a B. Sc Maths degree from the University of Madras, Ravichandran taught at the Premier Institute of Computer Studies. He then joined Unichem Labs as medical representative. Innings with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Bayer Dental, Mira Consultancy Services, and Rohini Global Herbal Products followed. He now runs Novadent (marketing of dental products) and Sri Chakra Printers.

Ravichandran now looks to network with other citizen groups and take the initiative of turning Chennai into a more livable city.

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