Last year, there was a report in the media about the likely takeover of the Beach-Velachery MRTS system by Chennai Metro Rail Limited, given its poor financial performance. As this blog has always maintained, the reasons for the so-called “losses” in the MRTS system stem not from lack of opportunity, but failure of policy.
From the very beginning, the MRTS system was not configured to be a full-fledged mass transit system, although the cavernous stations were designed for thousands of passengers entering and exiting constantly; there was no systematic feeder service, and no compulsion on MTC to run services via stations. Those who have lived in Chennai long enough know that the stations on the Beach-Luz section were put to incompatible uses. Their more expensive infrastructure such as aluminium staircases were ripped up and stolen. The takeover of a key transit station at the junction with Anna Salai (Mount Road) – Chintadripet – by commercial interests is another important point.
What followed the opening of the system is a thoroughly shocking misuse of the station infrastructure. The short-sighted policy of creating shopping facilities was distorted beyond belief, and the spaces that should have been helping passengers were taken over by parcel-shipping services. They brought in heavy trucks, and transport operators turned the precincts into an open repair area. Passenger parking and commuter-oriented commercial facilities, such as a post office, ATM, essential articles, phone kiosks and so on never made an appearance. Not even refreshment stalls and newspaper vending kiosks, which are usually found in suburban railway stations, were available.
After a prolonged legal battle, which the Chennai media generally covered in a disinterested manner, the parcel services were ordered removed. As the accompanying picture shows, those offices are mostly gone (a couple of them still continue on the front side), and their walls have been broken down, but the Chintadripet MRTS station is going to seed.
The Chennai Division of Southern Railway owes us an explanation on why it has done nothing to make this prime real estate socially useful – to passengers, to government agencies who are in need of prime real estate, and to weaker sections. Self-help groups, handicraft and textile co-operatives, could be given the opportunity to market their products. This will bring more people to the station and enhance passenger safety. Will the Railway Ministry and the Government of Tamil Nadu wake up?