Devotees visiting the Samayapuram Sri Mariamman Temple these days could find themselves groping for direction as the new by-pass road built along the Tiruchi-Chennai National Highway that has been four-laned recently has completely changed the landscape of the periphery of the popular pilgrim destination.

Worst-hit are devotees travelling by mofussil buses to and fro from the pilgrimage centre. Hundreds of them are put to grave risk as the new mofussil bus halts on either direction are located right over a bridge on the by-pass road of the highway. In the absence of a proper service lane, devotees arriving from Chennai/ Perambalur buses have to trek along a kutcha road and while returning they would have to cross over the highway, risking limbs and lives, to board buses towards Perambalur/ Chennai.

The temple attracts thousands of devotees throughout the year. Arrivals peak during the Poochorithal festival scheduled to commence next month and the Chithrai festival that follows. Already the Thai Poosam festival has commenced, attracting a regular stream of devotees.

The very purpose of laying the by-pass road, to avert the need for heavy vehicles to pass through the local traffic, seems to have been defeated now. For, many town buses, two-wheelers, cars and other vehicles proceeding to the temple from Tiruchi could be seen driving up the wrong lane of the by-pass bridge to take the kutcha road that serves as a link to the approach road to the temple. These vehicles prefer to take the wrong lane instead of taking a round about by going along an opening on the left along the Highway to reach the temple arch from where the temple’s approach road begins. Consequently, accidents are now becoming all too frequent on this curving bridge.

Pedestrians are often caught in a blind spot as they attempt cross over the highway to reach the bus halt on the other side of the highway. With vehicles travelling at high speed along the highway, most of them fail to judge the speed of the approaching vehicles. In the absence of lighting along the highway, it has become dangerous for devotees to negotiate the kutcha road to reach the temple during the night. A few women have been waylaid by robbers in recent days, locals say.

A large number of people and devotees have been put to hardship, says T. Chinnaiyan, Vice Chairman, S. Kannanur Town Panchayat, which has jurisdiction over the area. The only solution to the problem is to operate all mofussil buses via Samayapuram Temple arch as earlier, he suggests. Vehicles could branch off the highway on either direction to reach the arch.

“We have already made representations to the Transport Corporations and Regional Transport Office and so far there has been no response,” he says.

Work on laying a service lane, meant for people/vehicles coming from buses from Chennai/Perambalur, has been halted midway following a dispute with the owner of the land, who had taken legal recourse. “We represented the matter to the Collector T. Soundiah, who responded immediately to convene a meeting to discuss the issue. The Collector agreed to raise the money (for the land) by way of donations, but the effort could not fructify because the land owners approached the court,” Mr. Chinnaiyan says.

Enquiries with the four-lane project concessionaire revealed that no provision was made for a service lane at the spot originally, though it was later incorporated on the insistence of the locals. If the land was available, the service lane would be built, was the response.

N. Arulraj, a local autorickshaw driver, points out that a high school was located on the one end of the bridge and residents of seven villages have to cross over the highway on the other end. Besides, many vehicles come on the wrong direction. Hence accidents have become frequent.

“The immediate need is to direct all mofussil buses to operate on the old route to touch the Samayapuram arch to prevent the accidents. The construction of a new bus stand at Samayapuram should be expedited and once it is ready all mofussil buses should be directed to go via the bus stand,” says N. Ramakrishnan, founder secretary, MGR Nalpani Mandram.

Some of the locals also demand the stationing of a beat constable in the area to prevent vehicles driving down on wrong lanes.