Issues in Perambur show how not to fix Chennai roads

Chennai roads are seeing construction of stormwater drains and other civic works. What are the lessons for the city from Perambur?

With Chennai’s many roads being dug up for various civic works, it becomes crucial for the several agencies carrying out such tasks to coordinate better. A look at some streets in Perambur lays bare the problems faced by residents when civic agencies do not bridge the gap in communication or carry out shoddy and unscientific work.

Problems in Rajabhathar street

Rajabhathar Street in Ward 71, Zone 6, Perambur was once a model street in our neighbourhood and had drawn the attention of the then state government and won several awards. Now, however, one can often see sewage overflowing onto the road frequently, causing great discomfort to the residents of the neighbourhood. 

The reasons for overflow are mainly due to constant yet inconsistent road work being carried out by different agencies over the years.

Before the local body elections held earlier this year, the street was milled. The residents had requested that various government agencies complete any maintenance work or the creation of any new service requiring underground work before the road is resurfaced.

The street was dug up on several occasions in order to place new water pipes and address issues related to electricity cables. The result was clogging and overflowing of sewage onto the street. The residents have had to put up with a lot of discomforts lasting many weeks. 

The residents waited patiently for over six months before the work to resurface the road was finally resumed. A few weeks ago the TNEB contractors from Larson & Tubro dug up trenches to lay the foundation for new transformers and control boxes. During this time the manhole chamber located nearby was damaged and the sewage started flowing into the pits. The matter was taken up with the local officials. The pit was cleared with the help of jet rodding and suction machines on several occasions but the problem persisted.

In order to address the sewage overflowing from the low-lying manhole chambers, the workers chose to raise the height of three manhole chamber doors by over 6 inches. The road milling in our neighbourhood was taken up only due to our persistent efforts and we did not want the height of the road to be increased, only to match with the height of the new chamber doors.

We contacted the local JE from CMWSSB and also the AE GCC to record our grievances. They assured us that the height of the road will not be increased and the height of the manhole chamber doors will be reduced once the road is resurfaced.

During our discussions with the local residents and the officials, we also got to know that sewage from the Corporation Girls School on School Road was discharged into the damaged chamber in Rajabhatar Street. The clogging and overflow problems had started only after the connection from the School and an apartment nearby was linked to the sewage mains in this narrow residential street.

The sewage network had to be upgraded to take the extra load from the Corporation Girls School as well as the newer residential apartments and commercial establishments. The local JE from Metro Water confirmed that the proposal to change the pipes was still on and would be cleared in a couple of weeks.

Read more: Tired of your road being laid and relaid? Don’t be silent!

Ad hoc road works

Given this situation, the local residents felt there was no point resurfacing the road if it was going to be dug up again. They were willing to wait for a few more months given the fact that they had already endured all the difficulties over the last six months. A representation was submitted in writing with signatures from the residents in the street, to the local legislator.

We brought the matter to the media and had a meeting with the AE CMWSSB. The AE was kind enough to inspect the location and arranged to rectify the damaged pipes and also provided filters within the sewage manhole chambers located inside the school compound.

Despite these efforts, the damaged chamber close to the transformer however continued to leak and the sewage was flowing onto the street and the pits nearby. Instead of addressing the issue, the CMWSSB officials chose to close the pits with mud and debris as a quick fix solution.

pothole due to a broken manhole on perambur roads
The concrete topped storm water drain along Perambur High Road North Side is ridden with potholes, damaged and uneven manhole chamber doors. In the absense of a footpath on either sides of the road, pedestrians are forced to walk on the road. Pic: Raghukumar Choodamani

Even after our relentless follow ups, the local officials from the Greater Chennai Corporation chose to go ahead with the road resurfacing before these issues could be fixed. The reason they attributed was extreme pressure from a few residents within the street. 

After milling 40mm of the existing surface, the height of one stretch of the road was raised by almost 6 inches with a mix of gravel and concrete. Another layer of 40mm to 50mm BT was later added and the height was increased further. In some locations, the height of the BT layer after the road was resurfaced is now more than 100mm.

When we approached the contract workers and sought clarification, they mentioned that the road surface was not even and they had to increase the height in one stretch of the road to maintain a gradient towards one end for the rainwater to flow during the monsoon season. The roads on either end of the street are now at a higher level than Rajabhathar Street, making it prone to flooding.

Other roads in Perambur see the same fate

Another similar situation was noticed in Vadivelu Street, part of Ward 71, Zone 6. This road was milled over six months ago and was taken up for resurfacing about three weeks ago. In the interim period, the officials from CMWSSB replaced the water main at one end of the Street where the water supply was affected.

When the road was resurfaced the contractors did not apply the BT from edge to edge. There was a gap of two to three feet between the resurfaced road and the stormwater drain. The same issue was noticed in Nelvayal Road as well.

When we approached the local officials and sought their clarification, they promised to carry out a spot check and rectify any issues. The unsurfaced area is yet to be addressed. 

Read more: The citizen’s guide to dealing with ad hoc digging of roads in Chennai

Coordination issues in fixing Chennai roads

A lack of proper coordination between the officials within the local administration has led to many of these inconsistencies in implementing local infrastructure. Ultimately the taxpayer’s money which is being wasted and it is our responsibility as citizens to point out the flaws within our system.

After monitoring the works taking place across our neighbourhood, the residents cannot help but raise some serious concerns.

Arbitrary increase of height of the road in one stretch while milling another is a process that would lead to flooding and water stagnation. Maintaining uniformity in height and not increasing the width or height by too much would be simple steps that would prevent the flooding of homes.

Even when officials are aware that road digging would have to take place for civic works by other agencies, milling and resurfacing is still being carried out. Those Chennai roads that are freshly laid are being dug up in a matter of weeks due to a lack of planning and communication between agencies. This adds to wasteful expenditure and inconveniences the residents.

With many areas undergoing similar issues, the onus now falls on the residents to be vigilant and hold civic agencies accountable so as to not face issues when the monsoon arrives. The authorities would also do well to heed the grievances of the residents and execute plans in a timely and well-thought-out manner to minimise disruption to daily life.

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