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Updated: April 29, 2010 03:37 IST

Mushrooming business and shrinking space

    Ajai Sreevatsan
    Deepa H Ramakrishnan
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CHAOTIC: A view of General Patters Road where vehicles parked for fitting accessories block more than one lane of space. Photo: R.Ravindran.
CHAOTIC: A view of General Patters Road where vehicles parked for fitting accessories block more than one lane of space. Photo: R.Ravindran.

Border Thottam, General Patters Road bursting at the seams because of the feverish auto market growth

A day after a freak accident, which resulted in the death of a welder, the congested workshops in Border Thottam, which are the primary centres for dismantling out-of-use vehicles, wore a deserted look.

The narrow roads, which are usually filled with automobile parts and broken-down trucks, remained empty, more out of fear than as a sign of mourning, according to residents.

“Even an ambulance or a fire engine cannot come into the locality in case of an emergency,” said M. Sangeetha, a resident. The person, who died in the accident, Munna (25), had to be taken to hospital in an autorickshaw as an ambulance could not reach the spot.

Border Thottam, like similar labour-intensive commercial localities in the city, has remained static for decades while the city has rapidly developed. “We understand that the city has outgrown the locality and welding activity causes air and noise pollution,” said Hari Haran, whose family has been in the business for four generations. “But re-location would be a problem as there are 7,000 families here and we won't have facilities such as schools, markets or for entertainment if we are moved out of the city.”

He said Deputy Chief Minister M. K. Stalin visited the area six months ago and indicated that the workshops be re-located in light of the new Secretariat building and the Express Avenue mall.

“But we get our out-of-use trucks from Royapuram or from imported scrap at the port. Access to raw materials is easier if we stay put here,” he added.

General Patters Road

Not too far away from Border Thottam is the automobile accessory hub on General Patters Road. Parking problems and inadequate safety measures in case of accidents are obvious issues.

“Parking in front of shops is not possible. The space is taken over by them and is used as make-shift workshops to fix spare parts,” said S. Sukumar, a travel operator who regularly buys spare parts. “I come all the way from Tambaram because some spares are available only here. Dedicated parking facilities can be a major help.”

But spare fitters such as J. Vijayakumar, who work beneath a polythene sheet hanging from a junction box, say there is no space available for any expansion. “Working on the street under the sun is difficult. We have repeatedly asked shop-owners to build sheds, but nothing has happened,” he said.

K. Jayaraman, president, Madras Motor Parts Dealers Association, said that the number of shops on G.P. Road has vastly increased over the years. “In the last 10 years, with the invasion of foreign cars into the market, the accessory market has expanded. As long as things are moving, no one thinks about fire safety or parking issues.”

According to him, the industry itself has transformed from one that was run primarily through dealers to a situation where individual units are being set up in suburbs. “Several localities surrounding us have been asked to re-locate. Once you are in a place for three or four generations, it is very difficult to fit in anywhere else. But I guess we have to face reality and start contemplating alternatives,” he added.

As an immediate fall-out of the accident, the Chennai Corporation has asked its officials to look into the health and safety aspects of workers there. Mayor M.Subramanian said that trade licences were given to those arc welding units that applied to the civic body. Officials in the civic body said it was up to the police to regulate traffic on General Patters Road. “We can start implementing fines for illegal dumping of garbage on footpaths and the road,” an official said.

A traffic police official said General Patters Road was the only major link from Royapettah to Anna Salai. Since parking regulations are openly flouted and more than one row of vehicles are parked on either side of the road, there are major problems during rush hour. On suggestions to shift out shops from Border Thottam and the GP Road area, official sources in the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) said that unlike shops near Chinthadripet and Langs Garden Road, there were no plans for moving them.

“Unlike in the First Master Plan which suggested that George Town be decongested, the Second Master Plan does not have any such component.”

Sources said that though these are priority items, land was a major issue. “Though shop-owners in Border Thottam seem to be willing to move, provided they get land at the right location, they cannot afford to purchase land. The CMDA, on its part, would have to provide funds for projects it identifies.”

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