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Vol. XXIX No. 12, October 1-15, 2019
This month, Chennai has seen an alarming number of deaths due to a negligent city administration. 23-year-old B-tech grad Subhasri fell victim to a traffic accident caused by an illegal hoarding at Pallikaranai; 14-year-old Dheena was killed by an exposed live wire at Dhanam Nagar, Mugalivakkam neighbourhood; 42-year-old Sethuraj was electrocuted when a damaged electric pole fell on him at Chitlapakkam. As the administration scrambles to take corrective measures, the lack of coordination between state departments is noticeable with officials shying away from assuming responsibility and passing the buck among one another.
In Subhasri’s case, a flurry of action took place following public outrage. Every stakeholder responsible for the accident, it seems, has been charged. A case has been filed against former AIADMK Councillor S. Jayagopal who erected the illegal hoardings (celebrating his son’s wedding) on the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam radial road. He is still at large, with the police reportedly being ‘unable’ to trace him. The lorry driver Manoj Yadav, on the other hand, was instantaneously apprehended and arrested. The authorities have promised stringent action against the printers who make the banners and the High Court has directed the State to give the grieving family a compensatory sum of Rs. 5 lakhs.
Additionally, Chennai Corporation conducted a massive, first-of-its-kind exercise where it removed more than 2,000 illegal hoardings in a single day, covering Island Grounds, Lloyds Road, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Kamaraj Salai, Royapettah High Road, Ambattur, Sholinganallur, Perungudi and Thiruvottiyur – this despite stringent rules being in place on such hoardings, all of which the Corporation has adhered to more in the breach. Phone lines have also been set up for citizens to lodge complaints against unauthorised banners and hoardings in the city.
The question remains, however – how did matters reach this stage? In December 2018, the Corporation had announced that illegal banners had to be removed or persons involved would be subject to a fine of Rs. 5,000 or a year’s imprisonment or both. Surely, the authorities who lapsed in enforcing this ban are subject to action as well. However, there has been no talk regarding corrective measures in this regard, yet.
In the case of Dheena and Sethuraj, matters are more concerning. Dishearteningly, these accidents seem to have been caused by negligence in maintenance and coordination. Dheena had come into contact with a live wire which had been left behind by workers who had dug up the area to lay wires for streetlights and drainage pipes. The work hadn’t been completed, so the live wire was covered with mud and became dislodged during the rains.
Following Sethuraj’s death, Electricity Minister P. Thangamani held a press conference stating that neither death was the TNEB’s fault. He said that the live wire Dheena stepped on was part of a streetlight maintained by the Chennai Corporation; and that the electric pole that fell on Sethuraj was brought down by a falling tree branch, which in turn was caused by a truck hitting into the tree.
Chennai Corporation Commissioner G. Prakash said that the GCC was not responsible. He did add that investigations were ongoing and promised to take action against corporation officials if they were found culpable. In Dheena’s case, fingers have also been pointed at the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) who were doing digging work in the locality.
In the meantime, the NGO Chitlapakkam Rising surveyed its locality and identified close to 60 damaged electric poles. Reportedly, it had lodged complaints with the TNEB last year regarding the faulty poles but was told that the issue couldn’t be fixed immediately as the department was understaffed. In the last 24 hours that this article was written, a cow has died in Chitlapakkam from a live wire, which reportedly fell from an electric pole which had been replaced a day before.
As the politics of responsibility play out, members of the public are left wondering where to go for help in these cases. It is reported that the Chennai Smart City project is working on an Integrated Command and Control Centre to integrate the various functionalities of the GCC (see page 5). One hopes that a similar solution will be implemented to aid coordination between State Departments.