URBAN JUNGLE Many locations in the city seem to have visibly dimmed of late, and poorly-lit areas serve as a magnet for criminals

Why do our railway stations, bus stops and public places meant for the common man appear dark and forbidding at dusk? It has a lot to do with the state of electricity supply, which now frequently dips to 160 volts, and the quality of lighting infrastructure. Many locations in the city seem to have visibly dimmed in recent times, adding to the broken and decrepit appearance of places meant to serve a large number of people — except along roads on which political parties hold night meetings. But more on that later.

Poorly illuminated areas serve as a magnet for criminals. The city police recently claimed to have nabbed a group of robbers in Chetpet, who mugged four people in different incidents at night. A common factor in the incidents was the proximity of the Chetpet bridge, a run-down structure that overlooks the suburban railway station. This bridge has a pair of concrete staircases leading to the station, one of them in disuse and the other, the only access path for most people. The eastern staircase is badly broken. Both sides look like they are right out of a faded Victorian image, with debris and litter all around. Bear in mind that suburban trains operate up to midnight and from 4 a.m., and passengers must go to the station through this scary maze. A little extra lighting right up to the station would help.

If the dark approaches to Chetpet and other suburban railway stations provide miscreants with the best conditions to operate, the MRTS stations have other deadly traps. Last week, one commuter fell into a drain without a cover in the unlit Chintadripet station premises at night, and had to be treated at for a dislocated ankle. The simple truth is that the stations of this “flying train” route lack basic lighting. And the drain has been without a cover for years now, waiting to snare, like a poacher’s trap in the dark.

Not all of Chennai’s non-VIP roads are dark and filthy. On days that a big political party, whether ruling or in opposition, has an evening public meeting, scores of tubelights appear along the streets. Look carefully, and you will notice that each light is connected to a main wire using a pin and a connector wire. The main wire is usually simply plugged into a public electricity junction box. So what you have is an unofficial free power scheme for political meetings. You might call that electricity theft under the law, but the enforcement squads of TANGEDCO invariably don’t notice these small details. We saw that most recently in Kodambakkam on June 28. Although the political party involved tried to deflect attention by adding a generator to power the dais floodlights, the tubelights along the street were plugged into a junction box. Does TANGEDCO not seek penal revenue from these parties, and organisers of religious festivals on the streets for illegally consumed power? Consumers with installed connections pay for it and yet sweat it out during load-shedding. Our 230 volt gadgets do not work these days, because the electricity standard is going the ‘American way,’ dropping towards the 110 volt system. Perhaps with power saved from the free riders, and our civic bureaucracy waking up to the need for good lighting, we should be able to illuminate common spaces better, and make them safer.

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