Audit by residents identifies various issues with civic work in Chennai

Monitoring of civic work by residents has revealed use of poor materials and hurried and shoddy workmanship, leading to a waste of public funds.

The current administration has undertaken several infrastructure development activities across Chennai over the last few years. Roads have been resurfaced and stormwater drains (SWDs) have been constructed during this time. The members of the Perambur Neighborhood Development Forum have been engaging closely with the local authorities and contractors to monitor the quality of the civic work carried out in Chennai and ensure that they are up to prescribed standards.

Our observations in this time have been that the civic body and the contractors have failed to properly adhere to processes when it comes to several works including the laying of roads. There have been issues with the use of poor quality material and shoddy workmanship in the many instances of monitoring carried out by us.

Read more: North Chennai roads turn into an obstacle course for commuters

Poor road quality observed during civic works audit in Chennai

The members of the Perambur Neighborhood Development Forum have attempted to ensure that the height of the roads that are being laid are maintained in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Chief Secretary of Tamilnadu, Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and the High Court of Madras. 

It is very unfortunate to note that the quality of work being done by the contractors has not been monitored effectively and several roads which were resurfaced only a few months ago are already ridden with potholes and road cuts. The roads are also damaged by incomplete SWD networks, open pits and overflowing sewage in addition to potholes.

chennai road with potholes
Newly laid roads are already riddled with potholes. Pic: Raghukumar Choodamani

It has been mandated that the complete contact information of the contractors and the specifications of the roads should be made available to the residents along with the details of the guarantee period for the roads. However, we do not get access to any such information from the local authorities. 

While very clear instructions have been issued to mill 40mm of all roads and resurface them proportionately, we get to see only 20mm to 25mm of milling being done and the height being increased by over 60mm to 70mm in many places. 

The entire width of the roads is also not being resurfaced. In many locations, we noticed at least 3 feet to 5 feet of the road have been left untouched while other parts of it have been milled, leaving a bare stretch of land between the road and the SWD or footpath. 

Read more: Why road milling work calls for active involvement of Chennai citizens

Substandard workmanship, use of poor materials identified during civic works audit in Chennai

The civic work carried out also suffers from shoddy and hurried workmanship, without any care for the dangers such work poses to the residents. Some of the work carried out in my neighbourhood is an example of this.

Instead of ensuring the sewage and SWD chamber doors are placed evenly along the surface of the roads, the local officials and contractors chose to raise the manhole chamber doors by nearly a foot above the surface of the road. 

In Ward 71, where I reside, we have reported several such instances of raised manhole chamber doors forming a mound in the middle of the road. This leaves motorists and users of the road in grave danger.

raised manhole chamber after civic work in chennai
Manhole chamber doors are at a greater height than roads, posing a safety hazard. Pic: Raghukumar Choodamani

According to the officials, the height of the road will be evened out when the road is surfaced the next time. But until then, the users of these roads are forced to navigate the treacherous conditions.

In Puzhal Murugesan Street in Ward 71, residents raised complaints of damaged manhole chamber doors. The issue also received coverage in the media. Subsequent to this, one of the two damaged manhole chamber doors has been replaced. But much to the dismay of the residents, the replaced door has already been damaged within a couple of days. 

Another example of civic work that has been carried out without much thought to the consequences has been the work done on Patel Road in Ward 71. 

Small stretches of this road were resurfaced at either end only a couple of months ago. The gradient of the road should have been corrected to ensure the flood water drains towards the road where there is a SWD facility. It is very unfortunate that no one within the local administration took our suggestions seriously. 

We noticed flooding on this road even after during the small spells of rain. The SWD manhole chamber was totally dilapidated and had to be restored. Instead of reconstructing the entire chamber, they resorted to a cosmetic makeover and only the chamber door was replaced. Within a few days the new SWD chamber door which they had fixed collapsed into the pit. Shoddy workmanship is bound to fail and it did. 

After a subsequent petition was filed the local body replaced the door for the second time. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the past, the supporting walls of the chamber have not been restored, only an oversized chamber door has been placed on the road and the height of the chamber door has been increased by nearly a foot. 

The new structure is not fit for purpose and is also a safety hazard for the commuters on two-wheelers during the night and also when the road is inundated. The safety of the commuters and pedestrians has once again been compromised. 

Another issue that the the residents have noticed with regard to civic work has been the state of the SWD silt catch pits The pits which are supposed to catch rainwater have been flooded with sewage water. The groundwater table in our immediate neighbourhoods is bound to get contaminated over a period of time if the seepage of sewage instead of rainwater continues unabated. The authorities must take necessary measures to plug the illegal sewage connections into the SWD to prevent this.

Read more: Perambur SWD construction: Sewage, exposed cables and other horrors

Need for monitoring of civic works in Chennai

NGOs and citizen groups have been conducting audits on the infrastructure development works being done by the GCC and sharing the details in the public domain. This has helped in spreading some sense of awareness amongst the residents. 

As members of a civic engagement group, we would like to see the documents related to the original contracts to ascertain if the development works are being done in accordance with the terms and conditions laid out in the contract. 

Given the size of our city and the state, it would be impossible for civil society organisations to audit all locations. Local residents must play a key role in conducting the audits on the development projects and fill this gap. Residents must act as the eyes and ears and share all the vital information required to escalate the issues to government agencies. 

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