Manhole covers in city pose safety risk for motorists

Rules to ensure that manhole covers are at the same level as that of the carriageway are rarely followed or find mention in the Corporation’s road re-laying contracts, says activist

July 24, 2022 09:43 pm | Updated 11:11 pm IST - CHENNAI

A raised manhole cover on Anna salai near Teynampet in Chennai.

A raised manhole cover on Anna salai near Teynampet in Chennai. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

When the present DMK government came to power in 2021, one of its initiatives that received wide appreciation from the public and civil society organisations was its order to ensure that milling was done before re-laying of roads.

While this move, to a large extent, has helped the road levels from unnecessarily going up during the re-laying process, another such problem that is in need of special focus is the uneven placement of manhole covers dotting the roads.

The underground drainage network in Chennai has around 1.35 lakh maintenance holes. Ideally, the manhole covers should be at the same level as the roads. However, a significant percentage are either protruding above the road by a few inches or lying a few inches below road level, posing a serious safety risk to motorists.

In some cases, though the covers are at the same level as the roads, the protective concrete or bitumen transition provided along the circumference of the covers have come off completely, thereby forming a pit between the road and the cover.

R. Vigneswaran, an autorickshaw driver from Mylapore, said the problem was ubiquitous across the city. “On the roads I frequent, I now know where such uneven spots are and avoid them. It is a problem for me on other roads, particularly when you are closely following another vehicle,” he said.

“You cannot see a pit or a protrusion in advance in such a situation. When you see one suddenly, you instinctively try to veer left or right to avoid it. This can result in accidents as the vehicles coming behind you would not be expecting you to turn suddenly like that,” Mr. Vigneswaran said.

A few police personnel from the traffic wing of the Greater Chennai Police acknowledged that accidents do happen because of the issue. “Apart from resulting in accidents, such uneven spots slowed down traffic, particularly if they are near junctions,” said a police officer, requesting anonymity. He added that one such pit at the Mount Road and Dams Road junction was recently filled with asphalt after they raised the issue.

Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor Iyakkam, said he was hopeful that this issue would be addressed to an extent if milling before re-laying of roads was properly followed as that would prevent road levels from raising above manhole covers. However, this does not seem to have happened in many places.

A case in point is TTK Road that was milled and re-laid only a few months ago. The road, through which the Chief Minister’s convoy often passes through now, has at least two spots near its intersection with JJ Road where the manhole covers are a few inches below the road. Another example is the stretch of Anna Salai near Teynampet junction, which was again milled and re-laid recently. The digging of the newly-laid road for drainage maintenance work has resulted in many uneven spots near the manhole covers.

Mr. Venkatesan, whose organisation had consistently fought for the milling process, said raising or lowering of manholes while re-laying roads used to be part of the re-laying contracts of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), at least until recently. “However, that component of the contract is often underquoted and not complied,” he said.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on the General and Social Sector of the Government of Tamil Nadu for 2018-19 raised several such instances where manholes were not raised or lowered by the contractors.

Highlighting the guidelines issued by organisations like the Indian Road Congress are sufficiently strong, Sumana Narayanan, senior researcher, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), said there was a need to ensure that such guidelines were followed. “In some places, the protrusion or the dent is not even just few inches but fairly big to be major obstacles on the road,” she added.

She said the dents became particularly difficult to navigate during rainy seasons as one could not gauge the depth of the pits when they were filled with water. “With monsoon season just a few months away, there should be an urgent focus on this,” she said. She added that the Motor Vehicles (MV) (Amendment) Act of 2019 had provisions for penalising contractors who failed to ensure compliance.

Echoing similar thoughts, J. Krishnamoorthy, founder of R-Safe, an organisation that works towards road users’ safety, said stringent action under the MV Act should be taken against the contractors and officials concerned if any accidents happened due to such road issues. “Action taken in a few such cases can act as a deterrent,” he said.

A former official of the Highways Department said a key issue appeared to be the lack of coordination between different bodies, particularly the GCC and Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB). Sources in CMWSSB, which is in-charge of all manholes, said instructions had been provided to field officials to raise the height of the maintenance holes according to the road’s height to minimise inconvenience to motorists.

The water agency had recently started an exercise to desilt sewer lines in 1,460 streets across the 15 zones ahead of the northeast monsoon. “We will also inspect the level of maintenance holes and attend to the complaints simultaneously,” said an official.

(With inputs from K. Lakshmi)

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