The newspaper reports of Transport Minister K.N. Nehru’s speech in the Assembly on Tuesday make it clear that the DMK regime is preparing to expand its war on Chennai’s walking classes. If what the Minister says is true, the bulk of the funds planned for so called traffic management — a staggering Rs. 880 million in 16 years — will end up in flyovers and other car-friendly infrastructure. In effect, there is more impending hostility for the walking classes, the aged, the infirm and the disabled, who are already marginalised in this “Detroit of India.”
As the accompanying slideshow images reveal, neither the DMK nor its financial benefactors in the Ministry of Urban Development led by Minister Jaipal Reddy have picked the low-hanging fruit so far, when it comes to relieving Chennai’s congestion in genuine, people-friendly ways. Mr. Reddy only has to try to cover 100 metres on the arterial Anna Salai, to understand the difficulty that people face. They don’t have walking spaces, pedestrian subways equipped with escalators, and genuine low-floor buses (the semi low floor seems to be a peculiar and fraudulent Indian coinage that means nothing). So where has all the Ministry’s money been spent in Chennai? Will Mr. Reddy tell us?
Our award-winning Chennai Corporation brass led by Mr. Rajesh Lakhoni, the Commissioner, have yet to announce the results of their survey of obstructions on Chennai’s streets, in the form of electrical junction boxes, pillars, Metrowater installations and other assorted blockades by wooden-headed government departments. It will take a long time to fix the problem. If Mr. Nehru and his superiors in the DMK ministry are keen, (and they should be considering the geriatric profile of the DMK today), the priority should be to remove these blocks and smoothen out the footpaths (importantly, also creating new ones where necessary). Perhaps there small jobs are not so attractive to contractors, who are looking only for multi-billion rupee six-lane freeways hoisted on to monstrous beams that will inevitably populate the Chennai landscape.
It is surely a revelation of the lack of genuine intent on the part of the DMK, that there is a costly pedestrian overpass outside Shastri Bhawan in Nungambakkam that is stripped of its roof, and lying in disuse. After all, who would put up a big board announcing that Murasoli Maran funded such a decrepit and useless structure?
To its credit, the Times of India has today highlighted the foot-dragging by the DMK Government in forming a legally-empowered Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority for Chennai. The UMTA that we have now is a toothless wonder confined practically to the rest rooms of Minister Nehru, and Chief Secretary K. S. Sripathy (who are the only office-bearers identified). Moreover, we are left wondering how the Minister and the Regulator can be the same person! For a party that forever prides itself on running efficient public transport, and with some legitimacy to that claim in the early days, this is an appalling level of decay in the DMK.
Back to the question of the media’s coverage of these matters, The Hindu reports today that the Minister also announced the plan to run ‘mini-buses’ connecting interior areas with bus termini in Chennai in three months. As we are all aware, this is not a brilliant idea from Mr. Nehru or his masters. Anyone who thinks so has forgotten the M series buses that operated in areas such as Choolaimedu, Mambalam and so on, before the AIADMK and later the DMK regime decided to enable the city’s party-backed autorickshaw drivers to carve a hole in the middle-class purse and withdrew them. In economic terms, both the Dravidian Kazhagams are responsible for fuelling transport inflation phenomenally.
Hopefully, the media will follow the story and report whether the mini-bus idea is meant to relieve the trauma of those who are faced with the usurious demands of autorickshaw drivers in India’s leading city with a lawless class of transport operator. True, there was a time when autorickshaw drivers were badly off, and perhaps many of them still are. The welfare board for drivers was formed to address this more than a decade ago, and if the DMK cannot make that work, they have only themselves to blame. Sadly, it is not economics, but the lack of regulation that is making it easier to loot in Chennai.
The commuter has every right to expect that the mini-buses cover all interior parts of the city. They should be of modern design, comfortable, and above all, affordable. This is another moment for Mr. Nehru and Mr. Sripathy to recognise that the system of ticketing in Chennai has to change. They are expected under the UMTA mandate to do that, and are bound by the assurances that the Tamil Nadu government has been giving to Mr. Jaipal Reddy’s MoUD, about revamping the way Chennai’s transport will run in the future. It is only on these assurances that they have been given funds under the JNNURM, to buy the new series of LED-board buses.
Just get down to work, Mr. Nehru, and don’t take commuters for granted. They will react during the elections of 2011, if you and your department fail to act. We want to see the results NOW. Publish the Detailed Project Report of the MTC on its website, as required under the Right to Information Act. Equally, the MoUD should publish the DPRs of all the agencies funded by the tax-payer. We have the right to know.