At 7.20 pm on Gandhi Jayanti day, the Chintadripet MRTS station was enveloped in darkness. The ghostly outlines of the closed New Secretariat Building is in the background, across Anna Salai. The approach to the Station from Anna Salai has been dug up for some construction work. Overall, it is a mess, and a dangerous one at that, sufficiently intimidating to most people.
Inside the Chintadripet Station, there is a further eerie feeling, as the vast lobby has a few weak lights, and a lone ticketing clerk glancing furtively from behind crudely displayed notices.
The escalators, about which occasional reports appear in the media, have broken down and stand still. On the platforms, there is relatively more life as a score of people wait to go to Velachery, while a smaller number wait for the train to Beach. When it rolls in at 2 to 8 pm, the train is packed. Even though the MRTS system has been neglected by Southern Railways Divisional Railway authorities, the economics of commuting in India in general and Chennai in particular make the train a godsend.
An elderly woman wearing thick spectacles makes it up the staircase with difficulty to go North. She curses the authorities for “switching off” the escalator. We tell her that escalators work in shopping malls in Chennai, but not on the MRTS system. She curses again, and says, “just a few of us cannot change these things.”
It is hard to imagine that this is the same city in which there is a flurry of activity to construct two sets of rail-based public transport systems the Metro and Mono Rail, which together will cost over five billion dollars.
Why would a city that is willing to spend such massive amounts not spend a few rupees on adding to the lighting in the existing, operational and useful rail infrastructure such as the MRTS? Sometimes I think the leaders of the Dravidian Pantheon, whether it is Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, Vijaykanth, or Ramadoss have no idea of what these things are – Metro, Mono, MTC, SETC, and so on. These things are meant for lesser mortals, who will continue to vote them to office.