Roads in many parts of the city have been dug up by the civic authorities for stormwater drainage (SWD) work, causing inconvenience to commuters, commercial establishments and residents. In a few places, bus shelters, well-laid granite platforms and public toilets have been demolished while trees have been uprooted, lament residents. Businesses have incurred heavy losses as roads in front of their stores have been dug up cutting off access to customers.
In Ekkattuthangal, trenches dug on the arterial Jawaharlal Nehru Road has forced pedestrians to use the road and motorists to park their vehicles along the drains, hampering traffic. “The carriageway has shrunk now and traffic movement is slow. Many residents, young and old alike, have to walk on a wooden plank placed across the trench to reach Balaji Nagar since the road has been excavated. Customers cannot take their vehicles into shops and have to park on the road,” said V. Gopalakrishnan, an Ekkattuthangal resident and social activist.
At Ashok Nagar, shops have already emerged on half-finished pavements above drains built recently and eateries have encroached on the space of stormwater drains. With shops and commercial complexes cut off from roads, the SWD work has also affected the livelihood of many. “Without any prior information, they came and dug a huge trench in front of my shop. I had no other option except to close the shop until the work is completed,” says Mohan, a shopkeeper on Dr. Ranga Road in Mylapore.
Meera Ravikumar, a civic activist in Adyar, echoes the worries of residents of other parts of the city. “The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) seems to be digging up every street where there is some waterlogging issue. I wonder if the authorities have done any feasibility study on the need for SWD in a particular street. There can be instances of temporary waterlogging which can be resolved by various other means like rainwater harvesting wells. They are even digging up the sandy soil of Besant Nagar and Kalashetra Colony.”
However, civic woes aside, the bigger issue is safety, say residents. In June, a doctor sustained minor injuries when his car fell into a trench dug by the corporation as part of SWD work, in Adyar. A few days later, a 57-year-old bank manager was killed and two others were injured when a tree fell on the car they were travelling in K.K. Nagar. The corporation has however denied that SWD work caused the accident. Recently, a pick-up truck got stuck when a newly finished manhole gave way in K.K. Nagar, raising doubts over the quality of construction.
At places including G.N. Road, Dr. Radhakrishnan Road, Anna Salai, Arya Gowda Road and elsewhere, trenches have not been barricaded properly and have steel rods protruding from them, complain residents.
The scene on Dr. Ranga Road is alarming too as half-finished drains are seen with exposed electric cables, indicating lack of coordination among line departments. T.M. Hariharan, an advocate and resident since 1962 said, “They don’t complete the work at one place and proceed to the next. They tried to finish work quickly, but you can see the cables lying on the finished part of Dr. Ranga Road.”
Residents of Abhiramapuram Main Road, Ambattur, too raise safety concerns. “Pits dug up for SWD work are yet to be closed. Many people here struggle to enter their houses. We are worried whether the project will be over before the arrival of northeast monsoon,” said S.P. Nedumaran of Ambattur Makkal Nala Sangam.
However, Deputy Mayor M. Mageshkumar said, “We are trying to finish the work before the onset of the rainy season. The Chief Minister has inspected and reviewed the areas prone to water stagnation. Subsequently, an advisory panel headed by retired IAS officer V. Thiruppugazh submitted a report on mitigation and management of floods, and experts from IIT-Madras also gave their opinions. Thereafter, tenders were called, and the work has been in progress now with the end of September as the deadline. Now, 50% to 60% of the work has been completed. It will all be done before the first week of October.”
Admitting that there have been traffic snarls due to ongoing work on SWDs, he said, “People have complained of traffic congestion near schools, colleges and other establishments. We have instructed officials to expedite the work at such locations. The Chief Minister is also closely monitoring this. We are focussing on completing the work at the earliest.”
Jayaram Venkatesan, convener of Arappor Iyakkam said, “The SWDs and platforms built under the smart city project are being broken and laid again. It seems nobody was held accountable for the mistakes done previously.”
A senior Greater Chennai Traffic Police officer said, “We have told the civic authorities to minimise the inconveniences caused to the public. We have also asked them to barricade the sites and erect warning signs. If the carriageway is affected, we do divert traffic.”
The GCC has proposed to construct missing links, revive defunct SWDs and construct new ones at 335 locations. It has planned to improve existing SWD infrastructure as a long-term measure to avoid water stagnation in the city.
(With inputs from K. Lakshmi)