Hidden histories Metroplus

Abdul Kalam and the MIT Gate

The Road over bridge to replace the railway level crossing at MIT Gate, Chromepet Photo: A. Muralitharan  

APJ Abdul Kalam was perhaps the most illustrious among the alumni of the Madras Institute of Technology. And he was fond of his alma mater, readily participating in its various events.

His visit in 2002 for an endowment lecture was an event for which the institution prepared itself with greater excitement than usual, for Kalam had just then become President Elect, shortly to be sworn in to the highest office of our country.

Everything was in order but for the tardy progress of what had come to be known, by then, as the MIT Gate flyover. This road over bridge was supposed to decongest the road leading to what was known as the MIT railway gate. In railway parlance, this was Level Crossing No. 28 of the Tambaram line, on the other side of which was MIT. When the gate closed to allow trains to pass, it effectively cut off all access to the thriving suburb of Chromepet.

The resulting traffic jam could last for hours at a stretch, partly owing to the gate frequently shutting down and more because of the indiscipline of drivers.

Announced in 1998, this flyover was taking forever to construct and sure enough, when Kalam came visiting in 2002, it was not even completed halfway. The usual reasons were all given out — delays in land acquisition, lack of coordination between agencies and no funds. The passage had become even more congested owing to the work in progress (!!). Residents were taking a two-km detour to reach destinations that were a mere 100m on the other side of the track.

Predictably, the President Elect’s convoy came to a halt and a long wait was indicated. But Kalam had other plans. Perhaps taking a leaf out of the days when he was a student, he got off his car, and much to the consternation of his security and officialdom, trotted off in his usual quick gait to the college. The event made news and the authorities were criticised for the slow pace of the work.

Nothing changed after that however. The flyover remained half-finished even in 2004. That was when V. Santhanam, president of the Federation of Civic and Welfare Associations of Pallavaram Municipality, took matters in hand. A birthday party was organised at the base of the flyover to commemorate the completion of five years of the work.

Astonished commuters watched as activists sang the birthday song and cut a cake. The first slice was given to a calf, which, according to Santhanam, represented the patience of the local residents. This novel protest woke up the administration, which then speeded up the construction.

The flyover was completed in 2005. The most popular remark then was that when Kalam came again, he would not have to wait or risk crossing the track on foot. He did make it to the institution while he was President, in February 2007. This time, he made it on time, putting the flyover to good use.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 11:55:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/abdul-kalam-and-the-mit-gate/article7485594.ece

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