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Showers on Thursday marked the beginning of NE monsoon 
(T Nagar)
Showers on Thursday marked the beginning of NE monsoon (T Nagar)|Photo credit: Annie Catherena
Governance

Chennai Braces As North East Monsoon Sets In

“We have learnt from our mistakes,” says Corporation Commissioner, G Prakash

Annie Catherena

Annie Catherena

According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), north east monsoon rains have commenced over Tamil Nadu and adjoining areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, signifying an increase in rainfall in the following days.

Tamil Nadu, particularly Chennai, has experienced a series of extreme weather conditions in the last few years, and this year the government and the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) anticipate worst case scenarios and have a well-planned agenda to cope up.

Smart City: Smarter Disaster Management

Commuters who once dreaded going through the congested parts of T Nagar in Chennai, now travel in ease, post the establishment of pedestrian plaza as part of the Smart City project. Although parts of GN Chetty road and Venkatanarayana road are still dug up and works yet to be completed, Raj Cherubal, Chief Executive Officer of Chennai Smart City project, assured that the monsoon will not affect the progress in this project.

Karuppiah who has been running a tea shop for five years on Venkatanarayana road, complains that his business has become slow for the past 5 months. “Whenever it rains, this place becomes inaccessible, it would have been better if the work was completed a little earlier,” he said.

“Most of the work which cannot be done in the monsoon has already been completed, especially the ducting, storm water drains and missing links. We do not anticipate any major delays due to monsoon,” Raj Cherubal stated.

Storm water drains, power cables and Optical Fibre Cables (OFC) have been systematically segregated through underground ducts, in such way that it would not be a hindrance to pedestrians. This ducting process would help the workers to attend to cross-sections of affected areas.

“To avoid radiation and to fix the alignment, Rs 4 crore has been allocated as funds to the EB (Electricity Board, state power utility) to shift transformers to another location. If relocation is not possible, transformers are covered up with stainless steel boards. This also makes the place look better aesthetically,” informed G Logesh, who is the Assistant Executive Engineer for the project.

“Shops on the sidewalk will also be removed once the project reaches its final stages, notices will be sent to evacuate in a few months. Apart from this, silt-catch pits, granite curb slabs which make the sidewalk non-slippery during rain, are a few of the many features of the plan,” he said.

The total project estimate of the Pedestrian Plaza in Pondy Bazar is Rs 33.8 crore.

Transformers being covered up as part of Smart City Project
Transformers being covered up as part of Smart City Project
Photo credit: Annie Catherena
Construction work temporarily stopped due to rain
Construction work temporarily stopped due to rain
Photo credit: Annie Catherena

Has The GCC Fared Well?

Earlier this year, the Madras High Court while hearing a public interest litigation petition had expressed displeasure over the poor condition of tar roads and demanded details from the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) on funds spent on laying roads and the procedures such as ‘milling’ before relaying existing roads. Milling is the process of removing a part of the road or pavement before relaying a road, mostly to level or smoothen the surface. This process is important as it ensures that the height of the road does not increase or becomes uneven.

R Balasubramanian, Superintending Engineer of bus route roads and special projects assured that strict guidelines have been given to ensure better quality of roads, “We have made it mandatory for contractors to mill the roads before relaying new ones,” he said.

The upkeep of major roads is taken up with grants provided under Tamil Nadu Urban Road Infrastructure Project (TURIP) and Chennai Mega City Development Mission (CMCDM). The funding is provided by the state government and 75% of the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) is contributed by the central government.

Post the monsoon season every year, interior roads and bus routes are regularly monitored and quality checked. Complaints regarding pot holes and road cuts are addressed within two days’ time and patch repairs are done in a week, claims the Corporation.

Between 2014 to 2018, funds worth Rs 622 crore were spent on almost all bus route roads. According to the data given by the GCC, even during the unprecedented heavy rainfall and flood in 2015 or during the monsoon season in the subsequent years, no major damage occurred to the roads. “Irrespective of the season, roads are monitored for damage and repaired every three years,” R Balasubramanian assured.

Within a span of 12 months, from April 2018 to March 2019, 30 roads were supposed to be relayed and tended to, out which five projects are still in progress.

A total of approximately 400 km of roads have been re-laid between 2015-2018 and a total of 128 km is yet to be issued for contract for the next year.

Upcoming project tenders for the year 2019 to 2020 will be issued within this month, which include relaying and partly relaying of roads and making footpaths pedestrian friendly, for an estimated amount of Rs 141.28 crore.

However, the condition of the roads, the effectiveness of silt-catch pits and storm water drains and the quality of roads can only be assessed post monsoon.

Jayaram Venkatesan, co-founder of anti-corruption organisation Arappor Iyakkam says, “The condition of the roads with incomplete storm water drain constructions are still a worry. Roads re-laid at many places like Villivakkam and Mogappair have increased the height of the road which results in a threat of rain water entering the households.”

Arappor Iyakkam is a people’s movement with a focus on establishing transparency and accountability in governance.

GCC Join Hands With Greater Chennai Police

On 18 October 2019, a meeting was held under Corporation Commissioner G Prakash and the Commissioner of Police AK Viswanathan. It was discussed in this meeting on how the corporation and the police department can work together to overcome this monsoon at ease.

Joint press briefing by Corporation Commissioner, G Prakash and Commissioner of Police, AK Viswanathan
Joint press briefing by Corporation Commissioner, G Prakash and Commissioner of Police, AK Viswanathan
Photo credit: Annie Catherena

Major proposals made during this meeting were:

  • Zone wise and ward wise respondent groups will be made, especially in low-lying areas like Zone 13 (Velachery) which is a geographically depressed land.

  • Communication through zone level and ward level WhatsApp groups will ensure if there is an issue to be addressed in a particular area.

  • Pumps will be mobilised to avoid water stagnation in subways and other probable places.

  • As police department has widespread wireless communication access, they will help in identifying and reporting problems.

  • Removal of uprooted trees, flooding or heavy congestion on roads will also be communicated by responders to restore normalcy as soon as possible.

  • Local NGOs will also assist in volunteering work.

  • In case of a calamity-like situation, the corporation and police department will collaborate to work on an action plan.

  • Drones will be mobilised to locate flooded and damaged areas in case of heavy rains.

  • Health and medical camps will be set up.

Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyyakam is concerned about under-maintenance of water bodies in the city. “The lakes and ponds that must act as major rain water harvesting structures have not been restored and in many places are heavily encroached which is resulting in flooding of places even for a short rain every year,” he said.

“As preventive measures, 75% of desilting before the monsoon has been completed. Blockages in streamlines, water channels and manholes have been removed. More than 250 contractors have been assigned and till date, three lakh metric tonnes of silt has been successfully removed,” states G Prakash, Commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation.

“Apart from that, 30 major canals and 18 canals under Public Works Department; a total of 48 canals have been desilted and rejuvenated,” he added.

The police department has also agreed to give full cooperation in mobility of resources and permitting movement of heavy vehicles in case of removal of debris or uprooted trees.

“In case of a flood like situation, the police department has agreed to make use of wireless communication and act as first responders. We will cooperate with the Greater Chennai Corporation in any way we can,” Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan assured.

“Minor carelessness lead to major mishaps, we have learnt from our lessons, and we are well prepared this time,” the Corporation Commissioner concluded.