Walk past the pedestrian subway adjoining Chennai Central station on Wall Tax Road and you won’t be able to avoid the strong, pungent odor of urine. It appears pedestrians come here to relieve themselves more often than they use the subway to cross the road, according to the subway cleaning staff!
“It’s mostly the autowallahs waiting outside the station who urinate at the entrance of the subway. People only use this subway, when the traffic police stop them from crossing the road by putting up barricades,” said A Kasturi, a government-hired cleaner who also routinely picks up empty liquor bottles from inside the subway.
According to her, homeless people come to the Wall Tax Road subway to drink at night. Some of them rest there in the afternoon, making it unsafe for women to use.
“Neither do the police stop the autowallahs from soiling the subway walls, nor do they prevent the homeless from occupying it,” she said, adding that apart from the stinking smell, barely three out of the six tube lights work in the evening.
A relatively cleaner subway in the same area, between Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and Chennai Central has its own share of troubles. Built to allow pedestrians to easily cross the highly-congested Poonamallee Road, it is now occupied in large part by vendors.
“The vendors selling fruits and flowers here take up most of the space, turning it into a one-way passage for pedestrians. I don’t know if this is legal or not, but it is highly inconvenient,” said R Rakesh, an engineering student, who takes the subway daily to reach his college.
The issue of vendor encroachment is not a new one. The subway near Chennai Beach station towards George Town seems to be one of the busiest and the dirtiest in the city. The walls are plastered with pamphlets and the ground laden with fruit peels and dead flowers.
Mohammad Afreez, a resident in the neighbourhood who frequently takes the subway said, “It’s a pathetic state of affairs. I understand that vendors are poor, but then the government should do something about their rehabilitation. Also, the walls here are so dirty and the lights, though functional, are covered with cobwebs. There is a need for some proper cleaning of this place.
While these subways suffer from poor infrastructure facilities, there are many which seem to be perennially closed, forcing the pedestrians to cross some of the busiest and most accident-prone roads in Chennai.
One of these is Anna Salai, which was once tagged by The Times of India as the deadliest stretch in the city. Three subways along the Anna Salai Road have been closed for months in a bid to connect them with the metro line.
S Ramamurthy who is in his seventies, is a regular visitor to Anna Salai, also known as Mount Road. He complained, “This subway (near Government estate metro station) has been closed for more than three months now. I usually have to cross the road to reach the bus station. For this I have to walk half a kilometre away to the turn at the Government estate and then walk the same distance back.”
Ramamurthy demands some alternative in place to cross roads, when the subways are closed for renovation. “I am an old person. I cannot easily cross the road in heavy traffic. There should be some temporary arrangement made by the government, for instance a traffic personnel should be made available to help pedestrians.”
The Highways Department, which operates about 50 subways in Chennai, recognizes the needs of the public, but it is unable to do anything at the moment.
R Chandrasekar, Chief Engineer said, “At the most we can get a zebra-crossing drawn on the road for the ease of pedestrians. Though, people need to have patience as the construction work is almost over and the subways at Anna Salai will be opening soon.” He said that the subways were regularly cleaned and the department had not received any complaints regarding their condition.