March 29, 2008

Managing the city's traffic

How many people find that their streets have been taken over by rush hour traffic?

There should be a sizeable number.

Just now I want to share my experience in the Abhiramapuram and Alwarpet areas of the city which have witnessed major traffic flow changes.

Changes made by the Chennai City Traffic Police to ease the flow on two main roads in this neighbourhood.

Some may approve of them; others may damn them.

But it is quite apparent that the Traffic Police are investing time and effort in this project.

One morning, as I hopped off from an autorickshaw and walked across to my office, a Sub-Inspector at the junction asked if I could spare a few minutes. Would I like to share with him feedback on the changes that had been made in the area?

We spent 20 minutes at that busy junction.

The first ten minutes were devoted to feedback, ideas and the local experience.

But the next ten minutes was one-way communication. For, this Sub-Inspector who had once attended school in this area, seemed to be stuck in a rut in the police force for apparently no fault of his. And on this Friday morning, all he wanted to do was share his lows in professional life.

“I chose to share this with you because you kept listening,” he told me.

There is little I can do for him. But his frustration is not stopping this officer from jotting down feedback on the traffic changes effected here and sharing it with his senior officers.

The positive side of the change here is that police officer Sunil Kumar, now Addl. Commissioner of Police in charge of traffic, has posted officers and men at all the junctions where changes have been effected, assigning men from Mount Road, T. Nagar and elsewhere.

This has ensured that policemen are present in the area to guide and advise motorists throughout the day. And that feedback is recorded on the streets and roads.

Small changes have been made where corrections had to be carried out. And Sunil Kumar says he is open to ideas as long as the changes benefit a large number of people.

Well, these changes will help us travel faster but a more severe problem is affecting us all.

Motorists are creating ‘bypass’ routes through residential colonies to avoid clogged main roads.

Kalakshetra Colony, Padmanabha Nagar. Mandavellipakkam, Abhiramapuram, K. K. Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Taramani, Velachery . . .

How are we going to tackle this serious development?

March 22, 2008

Journalism Course for Students

Bharathi Y., a student who lives in Thiruvalluvar Nagar, a colony in Thiruvanmiyur is gamely working with me.
Via the internet.
This class 12 student is keen to sign up for our annual Journalism Training Course this summer.
To qualify for it, applicants have to demonstrate their skills and keenness before we invite them.
Bharathi e-mailed a short report on a main road that runs through her nagar. I do not expect senior school students to impress us with some smart newsgathering and writing. But with a few tips and some encouragement, they can do impressive work.
Despite the unseasonal rain, Bharathi was quick to go out and work on her story - so if there are traffic problems on this main road, why doesn't she take a closer look at them and include such details in the report? And how about talking to local people to get their views and add them to the report?
The excited girl is at the job. What is the deadline, she asks me!
Our annual journalism course is open to all students in the city - but it is not only for students who may want to opt for studies in media/journalism/writing. It is also meant for those who want to explore the world around them, pose questions, collect information and share it with others.
It is not an exhaustive course though it runs for 20 days but it does push participants to undertake field assignments, to meet people and talk to them, to look at local issues and to write on them. Everyday.
These reports and pictures are posted on a web site (you can visit to see what the group of 2007 did). This enables others to take a look at the efforts of the participants. And they attract visitors long after the course is wrapped up.
We see this course as an extension of our work as a community newspaper.
Soon, we will also offer basic training to readers who may want to write for us. How do you think we should go about doing this?
Share your ideas at my blog -

March 15, 2008

Communities and Civic Campaigns . .

How do you organise a civic campaign and create space for the voices of the community so that they can be heard?
There are many different ways to do this.
But are there bodies which can come to the aid of a community when it wishes to raise issues in a city like ours?
The City Traffic Police introduced changes in the traffic systems in the Alwarpet-Raja Annamalaipuram neighbourhood last Saturday.
Perhaps central to the changes was the intention to decongest two main roads and to help motorists drive freely and smoothly.
Less than a week hence, residents and shop owners are agitated and some of them have got together to articulate their views.
On one evening, some of the owners of the local stores got together at a local restaurant, debated the issue and jotted their comments on the problems created by the new traffic system.
When residents began to feel the effect of the changes on the roads and streets - especially the problem of seniors unable to cross the main road because motorists were now zipping on the 'one-way' road - they too got together for a meeting to express their views.
But how would they make their views known to the Traffic Police?
What should they do next?
Some of them turned to me.
The 'Mylapore Times' had reported the plans long before they were implemented. Readers who e-mailed their reactions to the plans had got their letters published.
More letters came in the mail last week. We published them too.
The Traffic Police must have studied the traffic patterns to plan the changes. But they did not arrange for public meetings at which they could have got sharper comments and suggestions from people who live in this area.
Here is the problem - state agencies rarely interact with the community and people too keep away from engaging with the state.
The group in Alwarpet and R. A. Puram succeeded in getting a call across to the Jt. Commissioner in charge of Traffic. A sharing of views took place.
How about engaging the councillor of the area? A contact was made.
And why not get the local MLA involved too?
A signature drive is now on. 100 signatures are not enough. So the forms are still doing the rounds.
Meanwhile, the group got other ideas - establish contact with the media, send them a press release, invite them to do on-the-spot stories on the issue . . .
But sustaining a campaign is tough, said one group member.
Very true. Sustaining civic campaigns in communities is a challenge and few people are prepared to keep on track and be in for the long haul.
Fewer still want to stick their necks out.
Groups are fighting for the protection of the Pallikarnai marshlands. Residents of surburban Chrompet and Pammal have run a series of agitations against the state's move to acquire their properties for an airport project. Groups in north Madras continue to challenge the Corporation for dumping garbage from the rest of the city and forcing local people to live with stink and poison.
It is tough.
If your local association or civic group has been on a campaign, do share your experience.

March 08, 2008

Natyanjali Dance Festival

It is that time of the year when I park myself in Chidambaram.
To cover the annual Natyanjali Dance Festival at the famed temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja.
For three years now, our team at has been web casting this unique festival which begins on Mahasivaratri evening.
Now in its 27th year, the fest started in a small way when a few arts enthusiasts joined hands with the local administration to launch a dance fest in the outer yard of this great temple.
When we first came here, we began the coverage with reportage.
Then we posted dozens of pictures every day.
Later, we hopped across to places like Thanjavur and covered the fest from the magnificent Brihadeswarar Temple.
And when we joined hands with Premanand of ChennaiStream, we began web casting excerpts of the performances.
This is a new and challenging experience. Recording the recitals, jumping off to get soundbytes, shooting pictures and uploading the clips from an abandoned nandavanam close to the stage.
The web cast and daily coverage provide an audience anywhere in the world the opportunity to get close to a unique festival.
Ten days from now, the same team will be at Mylapore.
To web cast at least two key events of the annual Brahmotsavam of Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple.
Capturing the festivities and web-casting them almost instantaneously, with a running commentary done as we shoot inside the temple. On the mada veedhis and from roof-tops, it is a great way to bring the atmosphere close to people anywhere in the world.
Technology has made all this quite easy to execute.
But you need to be innovative and enterprising.
So, if there is a unique event in your backyard, go out with a digital camera, a mike and a smart commentator and bring these local events live to the world!

March 01, 2008

Worth discussing footpaths?

Is it worth discussing issues like footpaths?
Or relaying of inner streets.
It is.
But as citizens, we simply do not care to do so.
Lakhs and lakhs of rupees of the taxpayers monies are spent on civic projects. A good fraction of it is wasted.
But as taxpayers we do not care.
Last month, the city Corporation spent a tidy sum on advertising its tenders calling for contractors to lay footpaths in different neighbourhoods.
Such documents can astonish you if you read closely.
In Adyar, our photographer went out to shoot pictures of footpaths in four different areas. He came back with a sample which told a story.
A stretch of a path which was rarely used had been dug up - to be re-laid.
Elsewhere, the height of one section was taller than the other.
In another place, the pavement had atrophied into the wall of a company.
Time and again, all our newspapers receive letters from senior citizens who discuss footpaths. And we know why these letters are so strongly worded.
Senior men and women go out to shop, take short walks to loosen up or walk across to a kutcheri or to a library. And they dread the traffic and try to find pavements which are either not there, encroached on or in bad condition.
When we built our flyovers, our engineers got rid of the pavements alongside the flyovers to widen the service roads.
And now, after a simple investigation in my neighbourhood I find that the Corporation intends to lay pavements where they are simply not required - in the inner streets.
How do we deal with such atrocious development?
How do we ensure monies are spent on genuine civic needs?
One thing is clear - the civic body does not provide space for interested citizens who wish to play a role in community development.