The citizen’s guide to dealing with ad hoc digging of roads in Chennai


Dig up roads are relaid shoddily, posing a risk to motorists and pedestrians. Pic: V Pugazhvendan

One of the pet peeves of residents in cities is the overnight digging up of freshly laid or previously serviceable roads for various utilities. The exercise almost always leaves the citizen frustrated as she suddenly wakes up to uneven roads, potholes and dangerously elevated pothole covers. Not only is a perfectly navigable road rendered dangerous and unusable, in many cases the people are unable to ever properly get these roads fixed.

What can you do if this happens to your street? But before you come to that, it is important to know what the rules say.

Permissions for road cuts  

With the advent of a variety of private players in the Internet services space, there has been an unending spate of road digging for the laying of fibre optic cables. Given the large scale disruption of the city’s broadband services during Cyclone Vardah in 2016, most service providers now opt for underground cabling to prevent similar outage. Service departments such as Metro Water, TNEB and the state’s telecom service provider BSNL also undertake road digging for respective missions. This has meant that the frequency of road digging has been on the rise.

The Bus Route Roads (BRR) Department of Chennai Corporation provides the necessary permission for ‘road cuts’ as such digging is called. The procedure for obtaining permission for road cuts had been briefly digitised, but now physical forms have to be submitted for permissions.

An official at the department said that for any work such as the laying of cables to be carried out, submissions must be made in writing to the BRR department. A fee is charged for the same. Those who wish to undertake road cut work must provide details of the reason, the areas where the work is to be undertaken and the extent to which the cuts will be made for the purpose. The applicant also undertakes to fix the road once the work is completed.

Ground reality

Though the procedure to be followed for road cuts is laid out very clearly, with the onus on the applicant, in reality, the work carried out often causes lasting damage to the roads. V Pugazhvendan of the community organisation Kadamai Sei Thamizha learnt that first hand from his experience, as he saw the disconnect between procedures on paper and on the ground.

“On my daily route I found road digging taking place very late at night. When I asked the workers who they were, I was told that they were with the TNEB. But it was clear that they were laying cables for a private internet service provider. This went on for a few days. When I asked them to show me the work order, they did not have it with them.”

Despite the promise by the people present at the site that the road would be closed up and restored to its original state, the work was done in a shoddy manner. Pugazhvendan found that the same Internet Service Provider had dug up roads in adjacent streets as well. In every instance, the road was improperly fixed with either a slab that elevated a section of the road, or by filling the hole with mud and not relaying the damaged section. This posed serious risks to motorists and pedestrians who used these roads regularly.

What can you do?

If you find your road being dug up within the CoC limits, you can demand to see the work order issued by the BRR department for the same. The work order specifies the permission granted along with purpose, area and duration for the work to be carried out.

If the work order is missing, or if a road that was dug up for a certain purpose has not been relaid properly, citizens can reach out to the Superintending Engineer of the Bus Route Roads Department of the Chennai Corporation at 9445190735 or by writing to Lodge a formal complaint in any one of these ways, and authorities must see to it that the road is restored to its original state.

A complaint can also be lodged using the Namma Chennai app of the Chennai Corporation. 

As more and more agencies work on our roads for utilities to be moved underground, vigilant citizens can ensure that the work carried out is firstly sanctioned, and second, that it does not affect the quality of our roads.

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About Aruna Natarajan 183 Articles
Aruna is a freelance writer and former Associate Editor at Citizen Matters. She has a BA in Economics and a PG Diploma in Journalism. She has also worked in a think-tank on waste management policy and with a non-profit in sport for development. She writes on civic issues, governance, waste, commute and urban policy. She tweets at @aruna_n29.

1 Comment

  1. Digging and leaving scars that endangers lives on the road is very common in India. Swatch Bharat is another political gimmick. When we have to pay, just to Pee, who will want to pay. In fact all these facilities should be provided Free by the government. But corruption swallows the whole concept and these public utilities are contracted to the Political Mafia.
    I live in Alandur, Chennai where we still live with a stagnant open Gutter. Years have gone but the local engineer of Cmwssb pleads his inability due to paucity of funds. Our drinking water pipes are immersed in this filth. What can we do ? Nothing, but live with it or live in it. Jai Hind.

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