Yet few heed doctors’ advice to use masks

“If I disappear even for a second, the traffic will go for a spin,” declares Ramesh Kumar, the traffic cop at Goripalayam intersection. Clearly he has a challenging job.

Madurai’s vehicular population stands at a million at the moment. And the traffic police strength is 290. This includes officers and personnel, on or off the road.

According to Transport Department data, the total number of vehicles on the city roads in 1986 was less than a lakh. The sanctioned strength for traffic police personnel was 290 but the department was running with 170.

While the number of vehicles has increased 10-fold in 27 years, the traffic police strength has not even doubled in the corresponding period. Its current strength of 290 was recommended nearly three decades ago.

Until a decade ago, the traffic police regulated the important junctions in and around the Meenakshi Temple, the bus stands and railway stations. Today, they are deployed at several intersections on the outer ring of the temple. Given the heavy rush, if these points are left unmanned, it would lead to chaos.

To cite specific locations, it has become necessary today to post traffic cops at the New Natham Road, Athikulam junction, Palanganatham, Arapalayam and Kalavasal from as early as 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. “The traffic jam at intersections irritates everybody. But how many people even give a thought to the fact that a traffic policeman must stand under a blazing sun for hours? And what about all the vehicular emissions he inhales?,” Periasamy asks. “I am aware standing at traffic signals is a part of our job, but it is taking a toll on our health,” he points out.

Dr.M.Palaniappan, a pulmonologist with Apollo Speciality Hospitals, corroborates this with findings from a recent screening camp for the city traffic police. Of the 260 staff members who came for the check-up, 55 were found to have lung problems, 50 were diagnosed with diabetes. “Apart from exposure to automobile smoke, many had untimely eating habits, and were habitual smokers. Eating out on a daily basis caused health complications, rise in blood sugar levels and cardiac ailments,” warns the doctor.

Power cuts

Rajendran, a traffic police Inspector at the Periyar bus stand junction, says though there are automatic signals located at 16 places in the city, frequent and long hours of load shedding drains the UPS system. This compels policemen to be present at the intersection and manually regulate the traffic flow. “Besides standing under the direct sun for four to six hours,” he says, “there is every possibility and an added risk to the traffic cop of being hit by some speeding vehicle, especially during late hours.”

Two years ago, the Tamil Nadu Government cleared the daily supply of lemon juice and butter milk (in small sachets) to the traffic police during the summer months across the State. This offered some respite to the policemen in the scorching heat.

Dr.Palaniappan advocates the compulsory wearing of anti-pollution masks by the traffic police personnel to minimise the inhalation of smoke emitted by vehicles. “Direct and prolonged exposure to this kind of pollution can lead to ailments in the long run. The senior police officers should educate their subordinates continuously on the merits of wearing the masks,” he suggests.

With the onset of summer, the traffic police are trying to beat the heat by wearing summer caps and drinking more fluids. Still, the pulmonologist’s warning remains unheeded. Are the custodians of the law listening?

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