Chennai in darkness: What is wrong with our street lights?


At 6.45pm, Gandhi Mandapam Road is poorly lit. Chennai street lights follow their own logic. Sometimes, they are lit when the sun is on the horizon, but often, like in the picture above, not even after it turns dark. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Defunct or non-operational street lights are among the most important civic concerns for citizens of Chennai. Even though the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) claims to have been taking efforts to modernise the street light system, lapses are abundant. The problem has many different dimensions to it: absence of street lights in localities maintained by departments or bodies other than GCC, continued prevalence of sodium vapour bulbs, and lack of uniformity in operation of street lights across different parts of the city.

In localities such as Thiru Vi Ka Industrial Estate and Ambal Nagar (maintained by SIDCO), Nandambakkam (maintained by St Thomas Mount – Pallavaram Cantonment)  or Poonamallee High Road (maintained by Highways department), dark stretches are common. Citizens are unaware of whom to complain to, and despite Corporation officials claiming to transfer calls made to the helpline 1913 from these areas, to the concerned departments, solutions are rare.

Accustomed to suffering: The road adjoining the Olympia tech park in Ekkaduthangal is a hub for hundreds of IT employees, residents and vendors . None of them remember the last time they saw the street lights in this arterial lane that is maintained by SIDCO. Petty thefts occur frequently on this dark stretch. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

Citizens can either complain online or by calling the helpline 1913. A docket number is assigned to the complaint for follow up and checking the status, and the complainant can expect to receive regular SMS updates until the issue is resolved. There is also the option of replying to the SMS if the complaint has not been satisfactorily resolved.

The use of sodium vapour bulbs, which are less effective and energy inefficient, persists in the city, despite citizens’ pleas to convert them to LED lights. “Chennai has 2.77 lakh street lights, of which 80 per cent are  LED lights. Work is underway to make it 100 per cent by this December,” said Superintendent Engineer (Electrical), Greater Chennai Corporation.

Then again, many wonder at the frequent sighting of several non-functioning lamps in a row. Runners and cyclists also often complain against the irregular street light tracking system. “At Ashok Nagar where I cycle, most lights are lit up late in the evenings only, well after dark. In the mornings though, the lights stay on even after the sun is right over our heads,” says Rohan G, a cyclist. Similarly, Ramesh M, a runner from Kotturpuram, says there seems to be no logic behind the time of switching off lights at dawn. “As I run down TTK road, the lights go off well before daybreak, while on Eldams road, which runs perpendicular, the lights are all on even after sunrise! Strange!”

Lamp posts on the Pallavaram stretch of GST Road, a highway that goes till Nagapattinam have been defunct for months. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

When this issue was conveyed to the Engineer, he said that the lights run on an automatic mechanism set at the start of every month. “We take the time of sunrise and sunset into account to set the timings. For the month of October, we switch them on at 5.45 pm and it goes off by 6 am. Citizens can raise their complaints by calling the Corporation helpline, if there are lapses,” said the engineer.

Sodium Vapour lamps stand tall in city limits, despite environmentalists crying foul about their poor environmental performance. A glimpse from the Velachery bypass road. Pic: Laasya Shekhar
A drive on 200 feet Outer Ring Road (connecting Kamakshi hospital and Echangadu) is an ordeal. Motorists often rely on the overnight lit shop hoardings and the headlights from the heavy vehicles behind them. Pic: S Chandramouli
Pathetic roads and poor illumination peeve motorists at Vanuvampet, Inner ring Road. Pic: Sreeram Mahalingam


A tilted lamp post at a lane near Patel Road in Perambur. Pic: Laasya Shekhar
A street light at Venkatraman street in Perambur has been blocked by the avenue trees. Pic: Laasya Shekhar
Road users complained that this stretch of Maduravoyal at Poonamallee High Road witnesses a lot of minor collisions, due to poor illumination. The highways department is just erecting the lamp posts. Pic: Laasya Shekhar
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About Laasya Shekhar 287 Articles
Laasya Shekhar is an independent journalist based in Chennai with previous stints in Newslaundry, Citizen Matters and Deccan Chronicle. Laasya holds a Masters degree in Journalism from Bharathiar University and has written extensively on environmental issues, women and child rights, and other critical social and civic issues. She tweets at @plaasya.

1 Comment

  1. Great effort in getting pictures and making the article evident and fool proof….. None can deny these misery..

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