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After a lot of data juggling on what percentage of new storm drains in Chennai are complete, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has announced that 100 drain sites would be closed with centering sheets to prevent a repeat of what happened to journalist Muthukrishnan.

Only on September 29, Mayor Priya Rajan was quoted in the media asserting that 95% of the work on SWD was complete. Corporation Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi gave a similar account, although he did not give a number to it, on Deepavali Day, contending that all the works that were undertaken by the GCC had been completed or were nearing completion.

The tragic death of Muthukrishnan, 24, after falling into a drain being built by the Highways Department, weeks after bank manager Vani Kabilan died in a tree fall incident in K.K. Nagar has led to questions on whether the fast-paced drain work was executed in the best possible manner. Several people see the tree fall incident too as an offshoot of loosening of soil along drain construction areas.

Are councillors tracking?
Since the launch of SWD works in Chennai under the Tamil Nadu Sustainable Urban Development Project, with World Bank guidelines at play, in the first week of March, the GCC has aggressively tendered the drain projects. On the plus side, many of the sites chosen are historically neglected areas, such as G.N. Chetty Road, Bazullah Road in T. Nagar, parts of Kodambakkam, West Mambalam and K.K. Nagar, besides the suburbs where a lot of housing has come up.

As one of the biggest civic infrastructure projects in Chennai taken up in the wake of the paralysing monsoons of 2021 and 2015, this project should have received the highest levels of support from GCC councillors, the presumed first line of contact for citizens. Incidentally, the GCC website does not display a directory of the councillors with their contact information. Information on Ward Committee heads is available.

The tragic death of Muthukrishnan, 24, after falling into a drain being built by the Highways Department, weeks after bank manager Vani Kabilan died in a tree fall incident in K.K. Nagar, has led to questions on whether the fast-paced drain work was executed in the best possible manner

A two-pronged approach of the Corporation machinery being galvanised to collect ground-level complaints on drain work, and councillors being nominated to receive and report complaints would have provided a fuller picture at Ripon Building.

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin inspected some of the construction sites in southern Chennai suburbs, including the IT corridor, in late September, but the wholehearted involvement of the councillors was missing.

Also Read: Expert panel for flood in Chennai wanted transparency, but . . .

In the minutes of the latest meeting of the GCC council, on September 29, some councillors were reported to have raised the disruption created in an international city due to the slow pace of SWD work. But most of the recorded resolutions were on other aspects of civic administration, such as rebuilding schools, toilets, preferential allocation of shops and so on. The most prominent resolution on drains is a reallocation of funds for the Zone-9, Unit-26, Division 117 G.N. Chetty Road drain.

The reallocation is done out of “25% excess allocation” which comes to Rs.7.53 crore, from the allocation for Seethamma Colony. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the contractor, Bosan Infrastructure, who bid for “desilting the previously existing drain by removing the top slab” had got Rs.2.71 crore for the job, although this had to be upgraded to reconstruction due to the weak brick drain found in this area, the Corporation says. The cost of cleaning clogged drains and the need to reduce clogging becomes evident.

Monitoring future risk
Evidently, until there is an audit of every single piece of drain work, the massive project remains a work in progress. There are numerous ways a speedy assessment can be carried out, notably using GCC employees and those of other departments including the Greater Chennai Traffic Police.

The official app of the GCC could also be updated with a provision to report unfinished drain work. This would be the fastest way to independently assess the state of progress, since the data would be standardised and presented in an aggregated form

Personnel assigned to beats could be asked to report on unfinished, dangerous drains where iron rods continue to protrude out, ready to claim lives. Such rods proved fatal for journalist Muthukrishnan, since they caused abdominal injuries and internal bleeding.

The official app of the GCC could also be updated with a provision to report unfinished drain work. This would be the fastest way to independently assess the state of progress, since the data would be standardised and presented in an aggregated form.

Also Read: Chennai flood 2021: 45-year report may hold the key

In fact, the Tiruppugazh committee constituted to inspect, analyse and advise the government on preventing flooding in Chennai responds not to direct citizen complaints, but to official requests from the government and GCC based on public complaints that they get. This underscores the importance of maintaining good feedback mechanisms. Members of Arappor Iyakkam, the anti-corruption NGO, were given this explanation at a recent meeting on policy held in the city.

At a recent media interaction, Bedi is reported to have said that in many parts of Seethammal Colony, Theagaraya Nagar, Bazullah Road, G.N. Chetty Road, Ashok Nagar, Arcot Road,  Rangarajapuram, Mambalam, Virugambakkam, Ambedkar College Road and Pulianthope, “the works are almost completed.” The residents of these and other areas could be asked to provide their feedback on the state of the drain work, and the quality.

If the GCC fails to follow up on its promises to cover the unfinished drains, more hapless victims could follow Muthukrishnan, since a flooded open drain with deadly rods inside would look no different from a water-filled street. Many citizens have warned of deadly consequences of negligence and neglect, and the first of the victims in a direct fall has now been recorded. The GCC and other agencies should be compelled to get their act together.


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