Tri-junction in Thiruvanmiyur sees battle of residents vs bins

Efforts by residents for over a decade to clean up the tri-junction at Thiruvanmiyur has reached a fresh impasse. Will the bins prevail?

It is difficult to imagine a couple of constantly-overflowing garbage bins standing near a transformer being a part of so much history. But the ones you see at the tri-junction in Thiruvanmiyus where Malaviya Avenue Third Street bifurcates into the left and right of Sivakamipuram First Street in Thiruvanmiyur dominate the conversation in these parts. 

For nearly a decade, efforts have been made by tenacious residents to transform the area by moving street furniture and getting the necessary infrastructure in place to prevent flooding. During this time, there have been recurring issues with waste management in the streets. If only the bins could talk. 

A decade of issues at the tri-junction in Thiruvanmiyur

In 2012, the bins were part of a street referred to as the S-Bend. No one took notice of them in the narrow street which also had a huge transformer and two dangerously leaning junction boxes. 

People dumped their garbage around the transformer and the junction boxes, stepped over what they threw and went on their way even as the bins watched from across the street. 

A resident, Ganga Radhakrishnan, the transformer’s neighbour, made valiant attempts to stop the garbage being dumped on the street but to no avail. 

Children walked over the garbage to school, and others negotiated the junction boxes and the ever-present cattle, trying not to look at those relieving themselves behind the boxes. 

The worst hit in this war zone was the EB linesmen. The transformer sparked often, the junction boxes got hit by passing traffic and these warriors stood resolutely in the filth to repair them. 

Ranganathan, a resident in the first-floor apartment behind the transformer, kept his kitchen window closed after failing in his efforts to get the transformer – just feet away – rectified. He had to keep all windows closed anyway as the stench from the garbage below was unbreathable.

Still, the bins across the narrow S-bend watched. 

Read more: Conservancy workers have a few simple requests for Chennaiites

Bid to move the transformer

Then came the churning. Some locals revived a defunct Resident’s Welfare Association and began work on shifting the transformer and the junction boxes to join another one diagonally across the street. 

Please put all the electrical equipment in one place, we requested the EB officials. “We will fence them and protect them from garbage throwers.” 

The Assistant Engineer at the Sastri Nagar Electricity Board office was stunned. “We will install a transformer anywhere,” he said. “Who asked you to build houses around it?”

We followed this encounter up with RTI applications and visits to TANGEDCO Headquarters. 

“Who will pay the Rs. 20 lakhs?”, asked the MD. 

We applied for funds with the Mayor. “Collect it among yourselves”, he suggested. 

We then approached the Assistant Commissioner of Zone 13. Our request for the shifting resonated with him. A helpful official spoke for us. After two years and multiple visits to various offices in the city, the request was approved. 

The Greater Chennai Corporation would pay for the shifting. Then TANGEDCO took its time to prepare an estimate and the Accounts department pushed the file, and we got a formal approval on paper. We took it to the new MD, TANGEDCO. We prevailed and the work was sanctioned. 

We presented a diagram of where the transformer would go -20 feet across the road- and requested the shifting be done on a “maintenance” day. Soon the lights came on in the new spot. Within a month, we collected funds and fenced in the transformer bank. 

Rebuilding the SWD network near the tri-junction in Thiruvanmiyur

Then came the second project – rebuilding the existing stormwater drain and connecting it to the other side of the S-bend through the space vacated by the transformer. 

This way, we would have a continuous 1 km drain from Kalakshetra Road in the South to MG Road in the North, passing through the S-bend. 

What about the bins? Since the existing drain underneath the bins would be defunct, and a footpath would be built there, the bins had to find a new place. 

The bins were moved to the nook between the northern part of the S-bend and the newly-fenced transformer bank.  

In October 2015, the work started. For the first time in these parts, the stormwater drain would make a straight line; no perpendicular junction boxes would stand in the way; no unauthorised ramps would jut out of houses, and the incoming streets would be connected with tabletops. A dream footpath without impediments and a world-class road. 

footpaths and clean tri-junction
Efforts by residents to create a wide footpath and clean streets. Pic: Geeta Padmanabhan

The projects got delayed because house owners resisted the demolishing of the ramps, some rebuilding them after the workers left for the day. And the rains came in November-December 2015. 

Using the funds available post-floods, we got police help to keep the opposition at bay and completed the linking of the stormwater drains. Footpaths came up on both sides of the S-bend and a new pair of bins was fitted in the corner created by the transformer fence.    

Read more: Ambitious budget for Chennai’s waste management but no coherent strategy

Significance of the bins

The S-Bend was now clean with a walkable footpath. All the garbage was dumped into the bins, raising a topic for debate: Are the bins a boon or a bane? 

Boon because they keep the rest of the street clean, they afford a place to dump everything people find redundant, and they give the solid-waste management company a daily collection point for their compactor. 

Bane because of a dozen solid reasons.

The bins offer social, psychological and spiritual solace to the 3000+ community in the nearby Marundeeswarar Nagar slum and an endless number of drivers-by who pitch their garbage bags into them, Olympics-style. 

On an average day, the bins receive fish offal, kitchen and garden waste, cooked food, discarded furniture, packaging material, broken glass panes and pictures and statues of gods and goddesses. Ragpickers rummage to pick the recyclables, cattle and crows browse, and street dogs tear open the bags lying around. 

Empty the bins, they get filled in an hour. Linemen from EB visit from time to time to check the power supply and when they cannot push the bins to access the fence door, simply break down the fence and carry out repairs. 

The bins have also caught fire once. 

We have tried to get rid of the bins. We have failed. A resident from Gandhimathi Illam, located closest to the bins, his judgement no doubt clouded by the stench, pushed out the bins, fenced-in the corner and put up boards that said, “Don’t throw garbage here.” 

There was little to no change in the status quo.

Recently, the private cleaning company removed the bins. 

A very unwise move, the bins would have told you. The resident of the nearby slum who use the bins extensively had them reinstated. Their point of contention is that as the door-to-door collection does not take place in their locality, the bins must stay in place. Their solution to the overflowing bins was to have the waste contractor clear them more than once a day.

We applied to GCC, saying if the corner was cleared, we would install a fountain there. 

The project has been approved. But the bins stay. We have approached a green lawyer to consider our options.

Our argument echoes that of those who want the bins in place. Since the contracted company is mandated to collect waste door-to-door, they should several trips to do so if they have to clear the waste from the nearby slum. 

The afternoon shift is for collecting shop waste. The slum is full of shops. Why are the BOVs not going there during the B-shift? 

The tri-junction has heavy traffic all day. Why is the corner a collection point where the compactor has a huge problem with parking and collecting? Why does the compactor create gridlocks and break the bollards on the footpath? Why are walkers exposed to stench all day? 

The pitched battle to have the bins moved rages on, with valid concerns from all residents involved, as it has been for the past decade. 

As always, the bins stand witness to it.

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