The 18-cm rainfall that lashed the metropolis (Nungambakkam station) on Thursday and Friday has left many arterial roads in bad shape. Knee-deep water, loose electrical wires and potholes are a common sight in the city now.
At a time when the city’s poor civic infrastructure and lack of planning is all too evident, it is a pleasant surprise to be on this one road in Thiruvanmiyur, which looks clean and almost dry, and that too within half an hour of the downpour.
Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar Main Road, connecting Kalakshetra Road and M G Road is not a ‘high profile road’, or the address of prominent politicians or officers. The same road had in fact been marooned during the December 2015 floods, but the reality today is vastly different because it now has a comprehensive storm water drain network and a safe footpath, thanks to the dedicated efforts of a citizen.
Meet Geeta Padmanabhan, a septuagenarian from the locality, whose perseverance has saved more than 3000 families and many more commuters the harrowing flood experiences that so many other Chennaites have faced ever since the northeast monsoon set in. Residents who woke up on Friday morning expecting to wade through the waters were surprised to see the clear road.
After the devastation witnessed during the December 2015 floods, Geeta, a journalist, decided to counter the inaction of the Greater Chennai Corporation by taking charge herself, thus setting the wheels of change in motion. The footpath Of Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar Main Road, which ran above the stormwater drain, was at that time taken up by illegal ramps, junction boxes and manholes.
Clearing the footpaths
Geeta is also the secretary of the newly formed association called RMSM (Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, Malaviya Avenue, Sivakamipuram, Marundeeswarara Avenue) Peoples Security and Welfare Association. Her fight, however, wasn’t easy. Recollecting the struggle, she says, “The footpath work was incomplete when the 2015 December rains lashed the city. The house owners who had constructed the illegal ramps ganged up against me when I had them removed, and began to abuse me online and offline. I stood my ground, got the engineers to visit the place and made them follow my design.”
An architect couple from the neighborhood – N Deviprasad and Kavitha Prasad – played a major role by designing the road and changing it in accordance with the corporation’s plan. “They didn’t charge a penny for doing it. Their contribution to the project is invaluable,” Geeta says, in a grateful tone.
From the contractor to the corporation commissioner, she was constantly in touch with all the concerned officials to ensure the completion of the work undertaken. “I visited the office many times and kept calling them to inspect the locality,” she added.
Work on the footpaths was completed by June last year, after which she got the existing storm water drains repaired. “The drain has been around for decades. I just got portions of it redone and had a new one made at the S-bend to ensure smooth flow of water. The footpath runs on top, facilitating walking on this busy road. Either way, it is a win-win situation,” she pointed out.
Redesigning the storm water drain
Besides pursuing the officials, Geeta personally monitored the storm water drain work, ensuring that it got connected to a proper recharging medium. It is now well connected to the one on MG road from where the water moves towards Indira Nagar to escape into the Buckingham canal. In response to her calls, the assistant engineer at Chennai Corporation has cleared the holes leading into the storm water drain in Sivakamipuram.
Never say die
Drain repair was just one part of the job. In the run up to that, Geeta also got an old transformer, which was blocking the footpath, relocated to a safer place.
“It took me two years to get this simple task done. After that, I fought with the corporation for a footpath before they laid the road. It was a long and sustained fight at many levels. I submitted blueprints, brought corporation engineers to visit the area, quoted the Indian Road Congress rules and visited the Chennai Corporation several times to have the task completed,” explains Geeta.
So what is her success mantra? A staunch believer in the power of citizen participation, she says, “Never give up. Know the rules and learn about the duties and responsibility of the civic body. Click pictures and submit them with cogent arguments and demand action. It is taxpayers’ money that is used and we should always fight shoddy work.”