While the Transport Department dismisses the Porayur building collapse mishap, in which nine transport employees were killed in Nagapattinam district, as a one-off incident, more than half of the bus depots and bus stands in Tamil Nadu remain in shambles.
Reliable sources in the Transport Department conceded that many of them would collapse any time. Furthermore, with the North-East monsoon arriving, transport department staff are worried that heavy rains could result in accidents in poorly maintained depots. Sources said that in each bus depot across the state, on an average, around 10 to 15 employees spend the night every day, to start working in the early morning shifts.
However, the two recent incidents-- the depot building collapse in Porayar and bus station collapse in Coimbatore -- have triggered panic among the workers, as a result of which only few members take shelter in the depots.
According to senior Transport officials, the state has a total of 312 bus depots across the state in eight regions employing around 1.36 lakh. Of this, around 8,000 employees are in senior positions, while the rest are subordinate workers like drivers, conductors and technicians, who have to use the depots either for taking rest or to prepare for commencing work according to their shift. Of the 312 depots, around 190 are not in a good condition. Kumbakonam and Madurai regions have 45 and 54 depots respectively, which were constructed five or six decades ago and have not yet been renovated due to funds crunch. These depots pose a grave threat, according to the Transport workers.
“Whenever there is rain, we avoid staying in the depots, as the roof would leak and rainwater would also seep inside. Further, heavy rains can damage the structure of the buildings and we are always apprehensive, as the structures are very weak. If you see the oldest depots like Tondiarpet and Vadapalani, there is not even a provision of a toilet ,and the workers are forced to urinate in open places,” said a driver of an MTC bus. “Even though we complain about such issues to the higher-ups, nothing happens.
Sometimes they simply yell at us,” he said. M Shamugam, general secretary, Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), said that since a large number of bus depots lack basic amenities, the Transport unions have decided to seek monetary help from all the MLAs, so that at least toilets can be constructed in depots. “Most importantly, the labour inspectors should inspect the depots at least once in a year and submit reports to the Director of Safety and Health.
However, the respective officials settle the issues according to their convenience,” he alleged.K Natarajan, convener of a transport union was unsparing in his criticism. “It is extremely pathetic that the government has turned a deaf ear for so long, despite the repeated complaints regarding workplace safety and health. The other problem is unhygienic food in the canteens. Though a meal is provided at one rupee and coffee is being sold at 25 paise in these canteens, many workers never consume the food stating the conditions are extremely unhygienic.” He added that workers need to have better amenities.
‘Inspection, audits under way’
V Krishnamurthy, General Manager, Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC), claimed that only a few depots in Chennai are not in a good condition. “We are inspecting all the depots to take up renovation works. Further, we have shifted a sizable number of canteens, fearing that rainwater may enter,” he said and added that they are in the process of preparing a blueprint for undertaking repair works.
“Basic amenities, such as toilets are in a good condition in all the depots,” he maintained. R Ananthapadmanaban, Managing Director, State Express Transport Corporation (SETC), said that they have instructed all the general managers, branch managers and depot managers to inspect and submit their reports soon. “Based on the reports, we will send a proposal to the government to take up renovation works,” he said.