Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 23, March 16-31, 2016
Work has begun on the much-awaited pedestrian walkway that is set to replace the old median on Luz Church Road in Mylapore. This is to continue all the way to North Mada Street where it will link to wide footpaths. While this is to provide pedestrians with some much-needed relief, it is also meant to showcase the built heritage that continues to survive in the area. But, as usual, the project, while well intentioned, has run into some controversy, chiefly due to the public doubting the political will to retain the space as it is meant to be.
The project, first mooted in 2013 as a heritage walkway, is structured in such a fashion that the median walkway will link via table-top crossings to the pavements on the Mada Streets so that pedestrians can walk without impediment. The Corporation council dragged its feet over the approvals and it was only a few months ago that the necessary sanctions came. Work has now begun to shift all cables underground and, more importantly, remove all the encroachments along the Mada Streets to facilitate laying of pavements.
Residents are however unimpressed. They are of the view that the entire project will fail because it is not sustainable in the long run. The greatest fear is that hawkers will return to occupy the pavements, thereby forcing the pedestrians on to the carriageway. Presently, with the sidewalks practically non-existent, the road can accommodate the vehicles and those walking alongside with the customary ‘adjustments’ that are necessary on any Indian road. But once the pavements are laid, it is estimated that the carriageway will be restricted by 15 per cent. In case the hawkers are allowed to usurp the walkways, the chaos on the roads will only increase. Do our enforcement agencies, namely the police and the Corporation have the will to ensure discipline? Sadly, the answer is ‘no.’
There is a point of view that the residents of and visitors to the area treat the problem of hawkers with indifference and if only they complained the authorities will take action. The rejoinder to that comes from the locals themselves. Is it not the duty of those in office to observe blatant violation of the law and enforce discipline, they ask. And it cannot be denied that they are quite correct in their view. Besides, there is always the fear that anyone who complains can be harassed by vested interests. Not everyone in our city can become a Traffic Ramaswamy.
In the slew of schemes announced by the State Government just prior to the electoral code of conduct finally clamping a lid is a proposal to build a Rs 257 Crore oceanarium on 13 acres of land in Mamallapuram. Though the description of what is planned claims that this will be a site that will have a healthy mix of academic and commercial interests, a detailed study of the features indicates that whoever thought this up had only the latter in mind. The question is, does Mamallapuram, a world heritage site, really need this development?
On the anvil is an amusement park of sorts – a winding acrylic tunnel through which visitors can walk into the seabed and enjoy views in all directions, a restaurant to seat 60, a commercial food court, scooter and bump-a-car rides, and of course a musical fountain without which no public amusement facility is considered complete in Tamil Nadu. A nod to the academic side is a lecture room where educational films on marine life will be shown.
We are almost done with our tour of the Fort. As we walk from North Gate towards the main entrance, we cross Gloucester Street on our left. This is a narrow thoroughfare, its chief point of interest being what is now called Fort House, which dominates it. One of the older residences of Fort St George, not much is known of its history and it should certainly not be confused with the Fort House which was the first building constructed in this precinct and which gradually gave way for what is now the Assembly and Secretariat. The present Fort House is nevertheless impressive. It is 19th century in architecture, with a large courtyard, Mangalore tiled roof, thick lime-plastered walls and natural stone flooring. It serves as the residence of the Fort commandant today.
Just recently I read news of Chennai being ranked very high as a safe city. My heart leapt with joy. Little did I anticipate that within days I would be fed with the news of the city reporting the brutal murder of two hapless women, one in the heart of the city, and the other on the outskirts. This could happen in the safest of cities. When it happens in my city I am shocked and demoralised.
Does anyone know that the Chennai Corporation and Kuala Lumpur City Hall had signed an agreement on the promotion of art, culture, education, sport and commerce between the two cities, more than six years ago? Well, it is politics that had caused the delay but implementation has indeed begun now!