Thursday, October 23, 2008

When will Chennai's traffic improve?

N.S. Venkataraman, trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, as usual hits the nail on the head. I reproduce below the email he has sent to me

After visiting my 92-year-old uncle in Mylapore who is now confined to his home happily thinking about his younger days when he used to walk around in Mylapore without tension, I took a city bus 29C from Mylapore tank to Adyar depot. I boarded the bus at 6.20 p.m. on a Saturday and reached Adyar bus depot at 7.15 p.m. The bus took 55 minutes to cover the distance of less than six kilometres.

On that day, an actor-turned-politician was holding a big rally in the city with many of his supporters coming to the city in buses and vans from different parts of the state. While this partly contributed to the traffic hurdle, the bus conductor told me that the conditions were no different on other days during peak hours.

Standing in the bus for nearly an hour and having nothing to do but to watch the conditions on the road as the bus was moving at a snail’s pace , I realised that the traffic system has virtually collapsed. There was no space on the road for pedestrians or cyclists, and two-wheelers, three-wheelers and four-wheelers moved on whatever space that they found, to inch forward. In such conditions, any vehicle can hit another or a pedestrian and it was miraculous that I did not see any accident. My immediate feeling was: why do politicians hold rallies in the city and get their followers to come in huge numbers? Obviously, they have no concern for causing hardship to people.

I felt disgusted about the quality of traffic administration and those who are responsible for it. Ministers and senior bureaucrats, who lay down traffic rules move in escorted official cars and have no opportunity to understand the plight of those who have to travel by bus or of pedestrians. It appears that they have no action plan to solve these problems and they seem to have run out of ideas.

It should be known even to a school student that the number of cars and two wheelers allowed to ply in the city should be drastically reduced , since there is no relation to the number of cars plying and the size of the roads. Why is the government allowing more and more car factories?

There is certainly no feasibility of widening the road; constructing flyovers can solve the problem only to a certain extent. The mass transportation system is good in theory but it would take a pretty long time to implement the schemes and in any case the government is too slow on such strategies as well.

It is necessary to increase the number of buses in the city and discourage the use of cars and two-wheelers on the road to the extent possible. It is said that the Singapore Government has restricted the number of cars on the road as a part of traffic management policy.

Where's the proactive citizen?

The growth of Ashok Nagar-KK Nagar-Vadapalani-Valsarawakkam as a residential and commercial belt has been explosive in the past decade. Unfortunately, like in most Indian metro cities that are growing beyond their means, civic planning in Chennai too has not been able to match such growth. So, in a situation like this, what can the citizen do? Lots, if you ask me. Being proactive and setting out to do something positive ranks on the top of my list. Getting together to bemoan lack of facilities and help is easy, but the difficult part is to try and do something that will make a difference.

I bumped into such a ‘proactive citizen’ last week. Premila Rajan must be proud of what she is doing. She hasn’t achieved the success that she is aiming for, but she has made a good beginning. The problem is, of course, garbage that you find strewn all over the city nowadays. In this case, Rajan found to her utter disgust garbage piling and rotting outside the Padma Seshadri School main gate in KK Nagar, as well as on Ramaswamy Salai, by the side of the school wall. Nobody seemed to care and for days the garbage just remained, growing larger and rotting further. Rajan decided to do something and began calling Neel Metal Fenalca (NMF), the agency that is supposed to clear garbage in the area. Repeated calls to the agency’s KK Nagar supervisor resulted in the garbage being partly cleared. Yet things did not fall into place. For example, the supervisor promised to place an extra bin but that has not happened. Every time garbage accumulates, Rajan has been calling NMF. Not once, but several times. And finally there is a clearance operation. A sad state of affairs, you’d say.

This is only one part of Rajan’s initiative. She now plans to write a letter to the PSBB Parents Teachers Association, urging the body to do something. After all, what is the point in talking about a clean and green environment inside the school campus when the outside is littered with garbage and nobody seems to care a damn! Indeed, it will make a difference if the school authorities complain, she says. So, are they listening? An email Rajan sent to the school, based on the email id provided on the school’s Web site, has evoked no response. A telephone call to the school ended with an administrative staff member saying casually that she will do the needful. Rajan has also been trying to rope in support from other parents who wait for their children outside the school gates. She has given them the NMF telephone number and asked them to complain too. She hopes she will get the support she is looking for.

I am convinced that residents and PSBB students can do a lot to get rid of an eyesore like garbage in the area. I do not know whether Exnora has school wings in the city, but if there aren’t, it is something Mr Nirmal and his team should seriously look at forming. Imagine the impact students can create on the concerned authorities with their campaigns and action for clean environment! This would be much more meaningful than planting saplings. M.S. Soundararajan and G. Govindaraj, Exnora stalwarts and residents of KK Nagar, have contributed to making the lives of people living in this part of Chennai better. I now urge them to provide the lead in KK Nagar by campaigning, with residents and students, for a garbage-free environment. And, of course, we need more Premila Rajans to come forward.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Leave nature alone

N.S.Venkataraman, trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, makes an impassioned plea to the concerned authorities not the ‘beautify’ Elliots beach when there are so many other pressing things to be done. Many of us agree with his views, don’t we? Here is what he says:

As a long time resident of Besant Nagar, Chennai, it is really heart-breaking for me to see the Chennai Corporation proceeding with the so called beautification of the Elliots beach. It is actually a de-beautification scheme, being implemented with absolutely no consideration for the ecological issues involved or understanding of the concept of beauty itself.

As a concerned citizen, I feel depressed and helpless, not knowing how can I discharge my duty to protect the glory of Elliots beach for the benefit of future generation, if not the present one. How can the authorities do this, ignoring the views of the citizens many of whom obviously know better than those implementing this painful scheme , said to be costing Rs. 25 crores?

When the city is so dirty with sewage water overflowing in several places and those particularly in the lower income group are forced to live in extremely unhealthy conditions, why are the authorities in such great hurry to invest such large amount of money in such a scheme , that would bring no benefit to anyone, except perhaps the contractors ? With a Governor's bungalow coming up at one end and concrete jungle coming up at another end in the name of beautification, Eliots beach is now facing the threat of becoming one more ugly part of Chennai.

What are the options left for the concerned citizens when the authorities would implement their decisions as if the views of the people do not matter to them at all? It is not as if the politicians sitting in the government and in Chennai Corporation alone are responsible for such move that would kill the glory of Elliots beach. What about the so many IAS officers working in the government and corporation, who are said to be better trained in administration and should know better? There is no evidence that they have advised the Chief Minister or the Mayor to desist from this counter productive scheme in Elliots beach. Do they also not care?

Should the concerned citizens who are aware of the adverse consequences of implementing such schemes resign themselves to the fate and keep silent? If any one would feel that I have used strong words, they should go to the Elliots beach and see the ongoing work there for themselves and in all probablity they would join the band of protestors.

How can anyone beautify nature? All that is required is that Elliots beach should get less attention from Mayor and Commissioner of Chennai Corporation for putting up buildings on the sands and greater attention from those who desire cleanliness on the sands and surroundings.