Streetlights throw light on state of civic bodies

City Bureau

The problem of non-burning streetlights is compounded by poor quality of spares, manpower shortage

Chennai: Bad roads and waste management are two problems that civic agencies grapple with everyday. But a quick analysis of the newly installed SMS grievances redressal system by the Chennai Corporation revealed an interesting fact: The problem of non-functioning streetlights is offering a tough competition for the top slot, going by the number of complaints received through the text messaging system.

If erratic functioning of streetlights is a persistent bugbear for the city, it is worse for residents in suburban municipalities. It brings with it a risk of crime, road accidents and threat to personal safety.

H. Vembu, secretary, Padmanabha Nagar Residents Welfare Association Second Stage in Adyar, said the Fifth Street — an important link road running parallel to L.B. Road — suffered from poor lighting.

Another resident of Padmanabha Nagar said that complaints made to the Corporation met with excuses about shortage of bulbs, spares and maintenance trucks under repair. Poor street-lighting had led to an increase in petty thefts like chain-snatching in the area, he said.

R. K. Prabhu, a resident of Velachery, said many streetlights in various parts of Velachery were not working. Some streets, in fact, got better lighting from illuminated name-boards of shops rather than from the streetlights.

However, streetlights under repair on the arterial roads in Velachery (Bypass Road, Velachery Main Road and the Taramani Link Road) were set right because of the visit of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for inaugurating the Mass Rapid Transit System on Monday, according to the residents.

On Kolathur Somanathapuram Second Street, three streetlights have not been functioning for over two weeks now. One of the residents D. Sudha made a complaint via SMS, but to no avail.

The Corporation’s Electrical Department, which is in charge of streetlight maintenance, faces a shortage of manpower and maintenance vehicles. Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said that 10 new vehicles were to be bought soon and maintenance staff strength would be improved. “Cable faults increase during the monsoon. However, we have brought down the percentage of non-burning streetlights from 12 per cent two months ago to 6.8 per cent now,” he said.

The civic agency has also floated tenders for supply of 2,000 units of 70-watt sodium vapour lamp fittings, 950 units of 250-watt lamp fittings and installation of 250 timer-based streetlight control units. However, a Corporation official, requesting anonymity, said the root cause for streetlight problems lay in a deficient purchasing system of bulbs, chokes, fuses and cables.

He said that previously the agency was purchasing branded electrical spares from authorised dealers of branded goods, but at present the bid documents only call for ISO/ISI certified products without specifying brand names. Hence, some contractors, who corner contracts by quoting low prices, supply inferior quality products resulting in wastage of labour and time.

Dark suburbs

Problems pertaining to streetlights dominate every meeting of local bodies in the western suburbs of Ambattur and Avadi. In several wards, maintenance of streetlights has been privatised. Lack of ladders to repair the lights is a common woe that the local bodies share. Another problem is that tree branches block out illumination on roads, which is also the case on many city roads. Many motorists also underscore the significance of installing reflectors from the perspective of improved road safety.

As darkness falls more quickly during the cold months, the municipalities must take steps to prune tree branches, said residents.

Ambattur has seven high-mast lamps worth Rs.7 lakh to Rs.12 lakh each at important traffic junctions and public places, including Ambattur OT, Korattur and Ambattur Industrial Estate. A municipal official said sodium vapour lamps had been replaced with 20 mercury lamps on Park Road in Anna Nagar Western extension. These lamps illuminate the road better, he said. However, residents said many of them did not function well.

In the southern suburbs, residents have long been complaining about poor illumination on the Grand Southern Trunk Road between Tambaram and the Chennai Airport. Lighting along this route was the responsibility of various local bodies, including Chennai Corporation and St. Thomas Mount-cum-Pallavaram Cantonment Board. In the absence of a joint effort, certain spots near Chitlapakkam, Chromepet, Pallavaram and Tirusoolam are poorly-illuminated and accident-prone.

Privatised maintenance

Privatisation has become the mantra for maintenance of lights in some southern suburbs of Chennai.

Four Municipalities — Alandur, Pallavaram, Tambaram and Pammal — have gone in for privatisation.

The Ullagaram-Puzhuthivakkam Municipality would soon be following suit.

Privatisation at the moment seems to be restricted to municipalities. A senior official of the Directorate of Town Panchayats said town panchayats in the Tambaram region had only now initiated proposals to go in for privatisation. In 25 panchayats under the St. Thomas Mount Panchayat Union, the streetlights are maintained by staff who carry out multiple tasks, including plumbing and solid waste management.

Handing over the task to private agencies provided a lot of relief for local bodies as all they had to do was to settle the contractor’s bills and the onus of ensuring quality lay with the private agencies.

In Alandur, residents and councillors are satisfied with streetlight maintenance, considering that it was poor when it was the task of the municipality.

However, many residents say that privatisation is not a miracle solution. Contractors use inferior equipment resulting in the replacement of lamps and spare parts often. Hence, the municipalities ended up paying inflated bills that lead to waste of public money, said residents.

(With inputs from Kannal Achuthan, R. Srikanth, K. Lakshmi and K. Manikandan)

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