How Valmiki Nagar residents ensured proper relaying of roads in their locality

A citizen journalist gives tips and solutions on engaging with civic authorities in Chennai to ensure good quality and timely road repairs.

Valmiki Nagar is a compact and beautiful residential colony in Thiruvanmiyur, comprising four Seaward Roads that run East-West and Balakrishnan Road running North-South that bisects them.

The quality of the roads in Valmiki Nagar, re-laid over 10 years ago, has deteriorated over the years, with large patches of exposed areas, loose stones and so on.

The volunteers (me being one of them) of the Valmiki Nagar Residents Association took up the request for relaying of roads with the councillor of Ward 180 and Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) Assistant Engineer (AE). Here is how the road laying went —

Pre-approval phase

After considerable follow-up, the roads were included in a relaying list, after inspection by a team from the GCC’s head office in early 2023.

In addition to the relaying of the road, the volunteers of Valmiki Nagar also gave a schematic showing the water stagnation locations, and the list of speed breakers that needed to be corrected. The schematic was a map developed after we surveyed the roads for water logging after overnight rains.

Read more: Getting piped water supply to homes in Chitlapakkam

To their credit, the councillor and GCC AE visited the area more than once, observed the condition of the roads, understood the need for correcting the high speed breakers and noted the locations for the new rain water wells. 

All good so far.

Post-approval honeymoon

During our periodic interactions with the councillor and AE,  we were told about which roads in Valmiki Nagar are included, when the tenders were issued,  when the award of contract to the contractors (the tendering was done for a lot of areas in Chennai) was done, etc. 

We were called for a meeting with the councillor and the GCC AE and were requested to have the cars of the residents moved during the re-laying period. Since a large number of cars belonging to owners living in neighbouring areas are parked, we requested to have them removed with the help of the local police to which the GCC AE agreed.

We were happy with the way things were progressing, and we posted in the Valmiki Nagar Residents WhatsApp group about the meeting we had with the councillor and the GCC AE and informed all residents that the roads are going to re-laid soon.

Beginning of the rumblings

Neither the councillor nor the AE could say when the road laying will start. It became apparent that the scheduling of relaying of the roads (even with their jurisdiction) was way above their pay grade! The pulls and pressures for prioritisation of laying roads in different areas in the zone, the choice of the contractors from the approved lot, and other considerations seem to play a big part in scheduling of work, thus leading to its delay.

Throes and woes continued

The quality of road laying has been bad in many parts of Valmikinagar. Pic: Jaishankar Balasubramanian

There were multiple ‘puli varudhu’ promises about the commencement of the milling work. While in all fairness, the AE was not responsible, the false alarms did bring in some amount of diffidence and disappointment among the residents. 

Then there were the cars of outsiders that were parked on our roads. Road milling could only take place once these were removed. We had assumed that GCC would have told the Greater Chennai Traffic Police to have the cars moved. But that was not so. That responsibility fell on us! We called the traffic police in the night, who came and got the cars removed by summoning the owners. 

Finally, the road was milled, and we were looking forward to the road to be re-laid with Bitumen Concrete— the next step in the process. 

Then came the rains! The work that was delayed by 3-4 months came to a grinding halt.

Post rains, the ‘puli varudhu’ saga continued. Work was supposed to commence in the first week of January and after a few false starts, the relaying of the milled road was done. 

However, the quality of road works in Valmiki Nagar has been poor in many parts. The compacting was insufficient in many places, because of which there was spalling i.e. potholes being added in those areas. We showed these areas to the councillor who said that she would have them rectified. We sent the photos to the AE too. It has been three months since the initial complaint and yet no rectification has been done so far.

The bitumen concrete was not applied on SWD trenches, so about four feet of road width was lost. Pic: Jaishankar Balasubramanian

Then came another rude shock — the bitumen concrete was not laid on Storm Water Drainage (SWD) trenches. This meant that we were going to lose about 4 feet of width of the road! Ultimately this has led to the storm water drain sides to become permanent parking places for cars!

While this was happening, the newspapers were full of reports citing the number of roads being built by the GCC, the speed at which they were being done, and other such accomplishments.

Where are we now?

Patch repairs have been done in places where the road was damaged. Pic: Jaishankar Balasubramanian

In a small area comprising five roads, the total length planned to be re-laid is less than 2,000 metres:

  • Re-laying of the roads as planned was completed in mid March, six months after work was started.
  • Speed breakers that were levelled have to be laid.
  • In over 400 metres off-road where SWD trenches are there, we have lost four feet of width and ‘gained’ a permanent parking lot.
  • Patch repairs have been done in two stretches where the newly laid road had gotten damaged. GCC AE and Councillor have to be appreciated for this work. 

But the damages to the road after the re-laying on the west side of 4th Seaward Road, remain unattended, despite several complaints from our side. 

Read more: Lessons from residents’ efforts to remove bins in Valmiki Nagar in Chennai

Some lessons: how to improve the process of road relaying

Adequate staffing

Normal staffing of the city corporation is not geared to coordinate and provide the necessary oversight  for projects like this, especially when the roads are laid simultaneously in multiple locations. 

GCC can consider hiring temporary staff (can be fresh engineers/diploma holders) during this period to coordinate with residents, police and such.

Elaborate preparation

It is essential to have the road clear for the machines to carry out milling and relaying the road effectively.

The above-mentioned temporary staff can be utilised to give prior notice to residents through the association, coordinate for pruning of trees, the branches of which impede movement of the equipment, and coordinate with traffic police for removal of vehicles.

Improved Inspection

The work is done at night, and the lighting is not adequate to see if the compacting is adequate. The GCC should consider including an inspection in the morning of the previous nights’ work 

Special permission for movement of vehicles

Since the work involves movement of heavy vehicles, the work generally starts after 10 pm, mostly nearer to 11 pm, especially  for road laying work.  Usually, the contractor works with a target to complete a certain length. This results in inadequate time for sufficient compacting, which is the final activity of road laying.  We noticed these two segments of road laying in Valmiki Nagar. 

The GCC should be given special permission for their contractors to bring in their vehicles from 8 pm. The work can start at 9 pm. This way there will be adequate time for compacting of the roads.

In conclusion

The residents want their roads to be re-laid without compromises. The councillor wants his/her voters to be happy. GCC has made a commitment to improve roads. The AE needs to have a good relationship with the residents. The contractor also wants to do a good job (this was evident from the conversations we had with supervisors of three contractors). But the constraints and circumstances under which the work is planned, scheduled and executed  are not conducive for timely and quality work. 

GCC can consider adopting the measures suggested in this article to improve quality and timeliness of road works and bring delight to the citizens of Chennai.

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