CHENNAI: Even after a 24-year-old journalist died after falling into the pit dug for a storm water drain (SWD), the blame-game continues among government department officials.
The SWD works in many places in the city, including Wall Tax road, Perambur, KK Nagar, and Mambalam are not covered with barricades even as construction is underway.
“These pits are dangerous to pedestrians, and also for two-wheeler riders during the rainy season. Despite complaints raised by the public at Zonal level, there is no response,” fume residents.
There are over half a dozen open pits over the Storm Water Canal on Perambur High Road north side. In the event of flooding, pedestrians normally walk on the edges of the road and the incidence of falling into the pits is higher. There are no barricades or warning boards placed on the dug-up sites.
“We’ve warned the local body authorities about safety issues over the last several weeks. No barricades were put in place near the open pits dug for SWD works, and manholes across the locality. We escalated the issue repeatedly and all we got in response was a temporary solution,” averred C Raghu, a resident of Perambur. “They covered the open pit with plywood boards, and at some places, it remains open even today. During the rainy season, it becomes a life-threatening situation, as motorists and pedestrians can slip, or the boards could wither away after being soaked in rain.”
It looks like the government is willing to address issues of public interest only if there’s a major accident resulting in loss of life. The public anticipate the problems and try their best to help the local administration with prevention methods, but it goes unnoticed by the authorities.
After the journalist’s death, GCC authorities managed to cover almost all the places after almost two months of ongoing SWD work in the city. Yet some neighbourhoods remain unnoticed and still lack safety measures.
“Contractors have put up plywood for us to walk over the dug-up areas. But we’re scared to use it as the work was ongoing on both sides. And on rainy days, the situation is even worse as the road is muddy and slippery,” rued H Udhaya Kumar, a resident of Elephant Gate.
To avoid mishaps, many residents don’t step out of their homes unless there’s an emergency. “Barricades are placed on the edge of the pits. They often hang in balance and keep oscillating even with a slight touch. How can we feel safe like this? And then there are street light issues in several areas which, again, pose a threat to people in the evening hours. We’re fed-up,” lamented Udhaya Kumar.
Though the SWD work was almost over, some residents continue to live in fear due to the lack of barricades and logs near them. “Two weeks ago, a motorist fell into the pit but there was no major injury,” recalled Sooriya Basheer, a resident of Rameshwaram Nagar, Mambalam. “We also raised complaints to the engineers at the Zonal level. Instead of taking precautions, they asked us to be patient and gave us empty assurances completing the drain work quickly.”
Recently, GCC Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi stated that people can contact 1913 and complain if they found no barricades or any shortages. They could also speak to the councillors, cops or Zonal officers to prevent such accidents.
S Rajendiran, chief engineer (General), GCC, said, “We barricade the places vulnerable to the public, and now almost all the work is completed in core areas. But we need to remember that SWD works run for hundreds of kilometres in the city, whereas contract workers can work only for 30-40 metres daily. Only when one segment is completed can the barricades be removed and placed elsewhere as per requirements.”
To ensure that people don't shift the barricades, the civic body authorities have tied them up. “To make them visible during at night, we’ve covered them with green cloth, so that the public knows that work is ongoing,” added Rajendiran.
With the northeast monsoon to commence in the next 2-3 days, the SWD work has been halted in the city except the link works. And the works will not be carried out for the next two months.
The uncovered drainages and culverts in Tambaram corporation have been a challenge for residents to navigate. Activists lament over the inaction of officials, who’ve been informed many times about the danger they pose.
On IAF Road in East Tambaram, the SWD construction has been going on for 4 months with no barricades or covers, said residents.
As one of the arterial roads in the area that connects schools, churches and marriage halls, there’s no dearth of vehicular movement.
“We’ve asked officials many times to place barricades to alert the residents and commuters but there was no response from them,” said John JS, an activist from Tambaram. “At least now, they should do something to cover them.”
Similarly, in Perungalathur, the culvert on the Ticket Counter Road has been kept open for many years. People have even fallen inside them and suffered minor injuries.
The under-construction drainage near the Tambaram market has iron rods protruding from them. During peak hours, activists and roadside shopkeepers warn people about it to prevent accidents.
When contacted, the Tambaram Corporation executive engineer said, “After the Jafferkhanpet incident, we were ordered to close all the drainages. The work is going on, and in a few days all open drains will be covered.”