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Vol. XXXII No. 14, November 1-15, 2022

Open stormwater drains: A public hazard

-- by A Special Correspondent

The northeast monsoon is around the corner and the city is already seeing short spells of rain in a few areas. Natural, then, that all eyes are on the ongoing stormwater drain works currently undertaken by the administration. Though the authorities have been vocal in their commitment to complete the project in time to prepare for the rains ahead, residents and civic experts alike are concerned that many streets and junctions remain in a dug-up state of half-repair.

The open pits scattered throughout the city have left the corresponding roads unviable for public use. More often than not, these deep furrows are not supplied with a temporary bridge for safe crossing; and those that do offer one are no less hazardous to the public, for the planks used are far from sturdy and have no rails. Many commuters are unhappy with the sudden, inconvenient diversions along their usual routes; pedestrians and public transport patrons are also finding it hard to reach their respective metro stations and bus stops. The open stormwater drains have been the cause of quite a few public accidents as well. The many media reports of such injuries include that of a young man who fell into a pit in Adambakkam, and a citizen who stumbled on a flimsy plank laid across an open drain on Kasthuri Rangan road. These are growing pains, say some, for Chennai is actually undergoing multiple stormwater drain projects all at once. There’s the Rs. 728 crore construction of 964 km of SWD networks undertaken by the GCC under Singara Chennai 2.0 at Seethammal Colony, Vembuliamman Street and Rajamannar Road, among other areas; the desilting ­exercise of existing SWD channels undertaken by the Water Resources Department at a cost of Rs. 20 crores; and comparable SWD work undertaken by the State Highways Department at Wall Tax Road, Ashok Nagar and Adyar, also at a cost of Rs. 20 crores. “The works in several areas including Seethamal Colony, T-Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Virugambakkam, GN Chetty Road, Pulianthope and Ambedkar Nagar road are almost completed,” pointed out the GCC Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi.

Indeed, several measures are being taken to help speed up work. E.V. Velu, the Minister for Highways, told The Hindu that his department has engaged sub-contractors to accelerate the construction of a 700m long storm water drain that is to carry rainwater to the Adyar river. “There is pressure on us, which is why there are inspections every night,” he added. Tech-based solutions are also being explored. For instance, the work along a stretch in Kolathur was reportedly completed in 36 hours using precast technology. “The integrated stormwater drain network from Kolathur Poompuhar Nagar traverses and crosses Paper Mills Road near Velavan Nagar. This is a very tough stretch. If we go ahead with the ‘cast in situ’ process it will take one month to complete the work. The entire lowering of precast work was completed in 36 hours,” said an official to the media. More than 10 stretches have now been identified for the development of precast stormwater drains.

The city, thus, seems to be looking at a glass half-full. Hope prevails that the effort will stave off flooding in vulnerable areas, but the pace of work has left much to be desired and public safety planning has been tragically callous. There is dubiety too in the administration’s claim that 95% of the work is complete – media reports suggest that a decent amount of work remains and as it stands, the project was to have been completed by the third week of October. The lack of response to public concerns has left many unhappy too. While the GCC has recently announced a helpline to log complaints, one cannot help but feel that this ought to have been planned for from the very beginning of the project. It is important to remember these pain points, for this is not a one-time exercise. Not only is regular and effective maintenance key, but the city must change its perspective on the management of stormwater – while current efforts are geared towards the prevention of flooding, it would behoove us to remember that rainwater is a crucial asset that ideally ought to be conserved to shore up the city’s water resource. The day is not too far off when such large-scale work resumes. One hopes that we will remember the learnings from the current situation when planning for it then.

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