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How has a residential area at the confluence of West Mambalam, T. Nagar, Ashok Nagar and Kodambakkam spread over about five square kilometres turned barren without a single bus route? That is the story of Rangarajapuram, a largely residential locality that once boasted of two regular MTC bus routes and later two ‘small bus’ routes but today has no buses. High fuel prices are, meanwhile, eroding the household budgets of a large section of the residents.

This is DMK territory. The DMK is a party with a strong affinity for urbanisation and bus connectivity, but it could not prevent the conversion of Rangarajapuram into a transport desert. It now has the opportunity to bring about change.

Everyone in this area has to walk at least 800 metres to get to a bus stop, either in West Mambalam, or Samiyar Madam or Arcot Road Liberty stop in Kodambakkam. Or they have to take a share auto from Thambiah Reddy road. This is in contrast to what happened in some other areas such as West Saidapet soon after the 2021 Assembly poll: the local MLA, former Mayor Ma Subramaniam, has rejuvenated the arid transport landscape with newly introduced bus routes. More on that later.

The fortunes of Rangarajapuram, once home to another former DMK Mayor, the late Sa Ganesan, and its thousands of residents have withered, paradoxically from the mid-1990s when there was a housing boom. Scores of apartments came up from Railway Border Road along the tracks between Mambalam and Kodambakkam railway stations in a westerly direction, covering Azeez Nagar, Parangusapuram, Viswanathapuram, Corporation Colony, Nagarjuna Nagar and United India Colony. There are numerous redeveloped slum colonies in the area, the most prominent of which is “60 huts” (Arupathu Kudisai). There are three big schools including one run by the Corporation.

The fortunes of Rangarajapuram, once home to another former DMK Mayor, the late Sa Ganesan, and its thousands of residents have withered, paradoxically from the mid-1990s when there was a housing boom.

Boundaries change
In the latest redistricting for the Greater Chennai Corporation elections, this area was brought under Ward 132, Zone 10, redrawn from Ward 134 which is now mostly in West Mambalam where BJP candidate Uma Anandan scored an upset victory in the civic poll. Ward 132 was won by the DMK’s Karthika Bhaskar.

Residents had to face car and two-wheeler dependence – or expensive autorickshaw rides – first when MTC route 11D (K.K. Nagar to Parrys) stopped going via Rangarajapuram Main Road in the late 1990s, after Metrowater closed off the road for prolonged pipe laying work. The disruption impact was permanent, and the bus service totally disappeared.

Another route, 12C, covering important temple and shopping links in Saligramam/Vadapalani at one end and Mylapore/Foreshore Estate on the other, operated for some years, with the frequency dropping to one in half-an-hour a few years ago. That too disappeared during the AIADMK decade of 2011-2021. In response to a RTI application, MTC told this writer in October 2016, five services were operated on route 12C on weekdays, and three services on Saturdays and Sundays.

One full service bus route meant for office-goers was M11A, which touched key points such as Panagal Park, Teynampet, Anna Salai and Central en route to Vallalar Nagar, starting from Five Lights in Rangarajapuram. It was an extension of the popular 11A from T. Nagar. Although Rangarajapuram residents kept demanding better service for M11A, and The Hindu reported it (2013 report here), the route was slipping. The handful of services disappeared soon.

Small bus appears, vanishes
As these resources dried up, the AIADMK government introduced route S30, with a small bus in the familiar “four leaf” livery, from Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple to Ashok Nagar Metro station. It was doomed, as it did not touch any important location such as Kodambakkam suburban railway station. MTC started complaining about poor patronage.

S30 services evaporated, to be replaced in the first quarter of 2018 by another small bus route, S78, from Vadapalani to Theagaraya Nagar via Panagal Park, covering Rangarajapuram Main Road.

Since the jaded residents of the area were sceptical by now, and MTC did not widely announce the plan for S78, this too atrophied and was withdrawn. COVID-19 followed a year later, kicking public transport off the map of concerns. The State elections of 2021 made no difference to the transport agenda. After all, withdrawing buses primarily hits less influential traveller-classes such as women, students, senior citizens and small traders everywhere, and also in Wards 132 and 134.

When this writer asked Councillor Karthika Bhaskar about the problem, she confirmed that she had received many representations seeking a bus service for Rangarajapuram, but Metro construction work was being blamed for not extending it to the area. “Everyone has asked for it, students, women and so on,” she said, promising to pursue it.

Councillor Uma Anandan said it was an important issue and she would take it up, since it involved so many classes of people over a wide area who need a low-cost commuting option. The residents also want MLA J. Karunanidhi to support the demand.

The ‘desertification’ of Rangarajapuram is something that the new Transport Minister, S.S. Sivasankar needs to reverse as part of his small bus expansion plan. This area cries out for relief, and has several possibilities for a small bus route covering Rangarajapuram Main Road.

Two of these are:

Ashok Nagar Metro to Panagal Park via West Mambalam and Rangarajapuram – This would cover West Mambalam, Rangarajapuram Main Road, Kodambakkam Railway Station, Liberty, Mahalingapuram flyover, Usman Road and onward to Panagal Park.

West Saidapet to Liberty theatre point – from Jayaraj theatre, via Kodambakkam Road, Mettupalayam, Ashok Nagar Seventh Avenue, Arya Gowda Road, Umapathy Street, Five Lights, Rangarajapuram Main Road, Ambedkar Road and on to Liberty on Arcot Road.

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin can regreen the transport landscape, following up on the free travel for women that his government ordered, helping tens of thousands of wage earners

Both these suggested routes skip the limited use flyover at Rangarajapuram and instead touch high volume passenger points. A local door-to-door survey can provide insights into more route possibilities sought by Rangarajapuram residents.

Saidapet MLA Ma. Subramaniam took pro-active steps to extend 18K as a small bus service (S18K) to serve the tail end area of Vinayagapuram and Parsn Nagar in West Saidapet, with specific service timings. Services to even neighbouring districts in Chengalpattu and Kancheepuram operate from West Saidapet during select hours.

Transport Minister Sivasankar has the task of implementing the pending Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) system to tell passengers about the exact location of a bus on a given route, and its expected time of arrival. Bengaluru came up with such a system, but Chennai remains a work in progress after several years.

The question is, will the DMK bring Rangarajapuram back on to the MTC map without delay, reversing more than two decades of neglect? Chief Minister M.K. Stalin can regreen the transport landscape, following up on the free travel for women that his government ordered, helping tens of thousands of wage earners.

 


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