Over the past three decades, T. Nagar has undergone a makeover that its inhabitants despise. For 20 of these 30 years, a group of iron-willed residents have fought to reclaim their neighbourhood’s footpaths. Their battle has been tough and at times disheartening, but they still haven’t given up.
For pedestrians, T. Nagar is a nightmare. With hawkers taking over large stretches of footpaths on several streets and civic authorities deaf to numerous complaints, residents here have sought the Madras High Court’s intervention. Though several court orders have been given for footpaths to be cleared, residents say they have not been implemented. This amounts to inviting contempt of court – and can have serious consequences, but even this has had no impact on the authorities, residents say.
In 2006, the court declared Madley Service Road and Railway Border Road ‘a no hawker zone’. Only 131 authorised Corporation shops and other private permanent shops there could operate, it said. It also said shops could not extend their area of business beyond their boundary, and had to ensure free movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Despite these clear directions, the market on Railway Border Road has blatantly extended into Tukaram Street, and vehicles and vendors have taken over the 20 ft. space allotted for pedestrians.
In 2008, the court said hawkers could not occupy Rangan Street, Ramanathan Street and Mangesh Street. But all three streets are now a vendors’ haven. That same year, the court ordered the removal of encroachments on Pinjala Subramanian Street, reprimanded shops for using public places as private parking bays and denied permission to illegal autorickshaw stands to operate there. The court also ordered that the space beneath the flyover be used by hawkers instead of as a parking lot. None of these orders were implemented.
Residents say the authorities never consult them while deciding on sweeping changes for the locality. Recently, Mayor Saidai Duraisamy promised residents that a skywalk would be built from Mambalam railway station to the T. Nagar bus terminus. Residents of Madley Road say this will not solve the traffic problem. “What we need is a pedestrian underpass with a ramp running from the terminus to the Corporation divisional office near Siva Vishnu temple. This would allow free flow of traffic at the Usman Road junction,” says P. Venugopal, a fifth-generation T. Nagar resident-turned-activist.
Abdul Quader, also a resident of the area for 50 years, said a skywalk would only lead to more vendors setting up shop.
Residents also want the wholesale vegetable market on Railway Border Road, abutting Madley Road, shifted to Koyambedu. A court order to this effect remains un-enforced to date. “Why is the multi-storeyed mall built by the Slum Clearance Board 20 years ago still vacant,” asks Mr. Venugopal. “In the second master plan for the city, the government planned to convert T. Nagar into a commercial hub. But just like always, we were never consulted on what we wanted,” he adds.
Through an RTI, residents of Motilal Street sought details of the funds allotted for their ward’s improvement. Fifty days later, there has been no response either from the Chennai Corporation or from the State Information Officer, says V. Jayaraman, secretary of Motilal Street Residents’ Welfare Association.
The government claims that T. Nagar has more shops than residences, but even in the densely commercialised parts of the locality, small lanes and by-lanes are essentially residential localities. Residents here must walk, as there is no space for vehicles due to massive encroachments. But walking can be dangerous. Big shops on Doraisamy Road, Usman Road and Venkatnarayana Road have encroached upon the footpath for parking but several residential buildings are equally to blame — having converted footpaths into gardens.
This is evident on Murugesan Street, Usman Road, Natesan Street and Dandapani Street. In some places, full-grown trees are evidence that the Corporation authorities have never addressed the issue of pedestrian safety.
On what the law says
Unless authorities are held accountable, enforcement is a problem. Our laws are good but there is inadequate implementation and enforcement of them, as nobody is personally held responsible for the laxity. Let us pin responsibility on to specific individuals. Only then will enforcement take place. We need to know the official who is the face of the government. There needs to be decentralisation of authority and responsibility.
N.I. Rajah, advocate
Our civic body responds
The Chennai Corporation is planning to carry out minor modifications to the T. Nagar hawkers’ complex, which is likely to be opened in three months.
Some hawkers at a recent meeting demanded the demolition of the toilets in the complex. They wanted the toilets rebuilt at another spot. A few such modifications are likely to be carried out soon. Corporation officials attributed the delay in the relocation of hawkers to the pending disagreements between hawkers and officials.
"Providing good pedestrian infrastructure ensures that everyone has an equal right to public space. At the same time, it lays the foundation for providing citizens with a good quality of life. A walk-able city means the public transportation system functions optimally, which in turn can lead to a less congested and a cleaner, healthier environment."
Researcher, Transparent Chennai
"I would say that pavements in the country as a whole, are nightmarish and Chennai is no different. With trees, electricity posts, manholes and vehicles, no disabled person wants to be on a pavement. But I can see a ray of hope as the civic authorities are now making 70 main roads more accessible for the disabled. What happens to pavements of other roads in the city is the big question.
Member, Disability Rights Alliance, TN
“I don’t come home for lunch on many days, as vans unloading vegetables on Railway Border Street block my entrance. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. you cannot enter this part of T. Nagar. I have lived on this street for 30 years but I am worried, as in case of an emergency a fire tender or ambulance can never enter my street”
S. Subramanian, resident, Tukaram Street
“I have been selling flowers on Usman Road for 30 years now. Earlier, I had a table to sell my wares. But for the past few years, I have been on the footpath. I have two daughters and a son. This is my only means of livelihood. I invest Rs. 500 a day and make a profit of Rs. 200.
P. Ramasami, vendor, Usman Road
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