The residents of Srinivasa Nagar and Ram Nagar of Madipakkam area under the Greater Chennai Corporation have been denied basic civic amenities for several years. They have been living with the dangers associated with bad roads, open kutcha drains, absence of comprehensive storm water drain network covering all the streets, improper sewer systems and absence of quality water supply for nearly a decade now.
The common problems faced by close to 700 houses in the area have interconnected roots, mostly arising from the apathy and inefficiency of various civic agencies like GCC, CMWSSB, TNEB etc. that work in silos without any area-wise level planning involving the citizenry. The absence of urban local bodies for nearly a decade has further hampered the process of participatory planning in which citizens are consulted or their feedback considered.
Due to unplanned and uncoordinated civic works, the situation has become dire, the growth in population in this area only adding to the woes.
Roads an issue in low-lying areas of Madipakkam
This region was particularly severely impacted during the 2015 Chennai floods with floodwaters entering several homes. Six years have passed since that event, yet there is no comprehensive storm water drain network to drain out the floodwaters during the rains.
Many streets such as Arivoli Street and Sundararajan Street and arterial ones that connect the localities with critical roads such as the State Highway 2 (Jawaharlal Nehru Inner Ring Road) and the Madipakkam Bazaar Road have been left unpaved after digging works by the various civic agencies. The road cuts have not yet been rectified despite repeated demands by the residents with the concerned authorities of the various agencies: each agency just passes the buck to the other exposing the lack of coordination amongst the various parastatal agencies.
The design, planning and execution of the sewer network has been done so poorly by CMWSSB that even moderate rains results in the intermixing of the rain waters with the sewer lines, causing the sewage to overflow onto the streets that are already laden with potholes.
Read more: Explainer: How are roads in Chennai laid?
The combination of bad roads inundated with overflowing sewage makes the street completely unusable, particularly for pedestrians, two-wheelers and three-wheelers. The situation is especially harsh on the elderly and differently-abled.
Residents have also seen a slew of accidents in the area due to the poorly laid roads, resulting in pedestrians slipping on streets and the skidding of vehicles. The puddles of water and sewerage that stagnates on these potholed roads have also led to the menace of mosquitoes breeding in large numbers during rainy seasons, causing an outbreak of deadly diseases like dengue, malaria etc.
Many representations by residents’ welfare associations requesting for motorable roads and fixing of inter-agency coordination issues have fallen on deaf ears. The lack of political representation at the ward level in the form of a councillor, due to the absence of an elected urban local body, has paved the way for dysfunctional urban governance, in which unelected bureaucrats reign supreme in critical decision-making processes affecting thousands of citizens.
In some cases, the requests are considered favourably, such as when the residents recently beseeched the authorities to carry out road laying work before the monsoon. But in such instances too, the lack of sufficient planning while executing the tasks generally achieve nothing, except a loss to the exchequer and wastage of taxpayers’ money. In this particular case, due to the delay on the part of the civic body, a broken portion of a road junction, which was laid only a few days ago, just before the recent spell of rains, has already been partially washed away.
No water or sewage connections
In the areas of Ram Nagar and Srinivasa Nagar, many streets still do not receive drinking water and do not have effective drainage connections. Those who have obtained the water and sewer connections recently after several years still continue to face many issues due to the poor quality of service provided.
Many households receive a limited supply of drinking water for only around an hour, twice a week and the water supplied for the initial 30 minutes is of terrible standards. It is dirty and emits a foul smell, due to possible intermixing of supplied water with untreated water.
Residents spend a huge amount of money out of their pockets to purchase drinking water from tankers. Even small apartment complexes with six units incur around Rs 7000 per month to buy drinking water and to clear out the sewage by hiring tankers that empty the common sewage tanks.
The poor roads in the area have been made worse by the constant movement of these water and sewage tankers that are used by almost every household. Not to mention the amount of air pollution caused by the emissions from these tankers, which can be greatly reduced by providing water and sewer connections to all the households.
What the residents of Madipakkam want
Residents of the two localities want some of their demands addressed on priority such as the ones relating to the poor condition of the roads, lack of sewer network and storm water drains as these would only get worse with the arrival of the northeast monsoon. The residents request immediate action on their complaints before the monsoon since urban flooding in this low-lying area is almost a routine yearly phenomenon now, with erratic intensity of rains and associated cloud bursts increasing each year due to climate change.
They also request expediting the process of providing sewer and drinking water connections with clear targets and deadlines. Provision of functional drinking water supply and sewer connection to every household reduces environmental pollution to a large extent by curbing the seepage of waste water into open areas resulting in stagnation and pollution of groundwater. Despite paying taxes for the same, the promised basic civic amenities have not materialised even after a decade.
Another demand of the citizens in this area is the enforcement of the Citizen’s Charter so that there is timely, comprehensive and coordinated action taken on the complaints filed. The action taken should lead to sustainable outcomes and not just amount to ad-hoc patchwork. Over the past year, many of the issues raised have been neglected by the authorities by shifting the blame to the other agencies and so on.
There has to be political will to make the urban local bodies functional and resolve the problem of inter-departmental coordination between the various agencies such as Greater Chennai Corporation, CMWSSB and TNEB among others.
Errata: The shared byline for this article had been mistakenly accorded to T V Hariharan in the first published version and has been changed following a clarification from the individuals concerned.