Residents of newly-added areas of the Chennai Corporation were left in a lurch after private sewer tanker lorries went on a strike on Tuesday.
From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., over 120 sewer lorries lined up on Pumping Station Road in Thoraipakkam. They were protesting the traffic police’s action of penalising them for plying on city roads during the day and during peak hours.
“We are serving the public by clearing sewage,” said a member of a private sewer tanker lorry association.
The lorries ply in newly-added areas and serve over two lakh residents. “There is no drainage connection in many of these places. When residents call, we clean their septic tanks and dump the waste in the Thoraipakkam pumping station,” said the association member.
On Tuesday alone, over 1,000 calls from consumers, including hotels and IT companies, in areas between Kottivakkam and Uthandi, Semmenchery and OMR Kottivakkam, Tambaram and Perungalathur, and elsewhere, were left unattended.
“We charge a minimum of Rs. 450 per visit and the rate increases depending on the distance,” he said.
Over 300 drivers and cleaners are pressed into service across the added areas. “But the police want us to do the work late at night. This is not possible as sewage overflow can happen anytime and we need to clear it as soon as possible. The police fine us Rs. 1,500 if we ply during the day,” he said.
Besides, the member said, the cleaners would be put to danger if they worked at night. “A few days ago, two persons died in Perumbakkam when cleaning a septic tank during the day. It is more dangerous in the night as visibility is poor. Besides, residents’ sleep will be disturbed due to the sound from the motors,” he said.
After Tuesday’s protest, the lorry owners met senior traffic police officers. “They asked us to carry out our work between 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m. But in that case, we will be able to attend to limited number of calls only. We will lose out on revenue,” he said.
The lorry operators got a reprieve when the police said they would not be fined. “We assured the cops that our vehicles would not exceed speed limit of 40 kilometre per hour,” he said.