May 30, 2008

Traffic Jams in Besant Nagar

Most of us have our favourite hangouts.
They vary from place to place.
Mine are bookshops and stores which sell hundreds of magazines and newspapers.
I have one such destination in Besant Nagar. I have been frequenting it for about five years now. This place isn't a shop; it is a hole in the wall but this 'hole' is a prime location in this neghbourhood.
It is my favourite because the owner stocks all kinds of titles and allows me to browse as long as I wish to.
The English magazine titles have kept changing all the time.
But the periodicals in the vernacular have expanded. Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi magazines and newspapers are now on the racks and this is an indication of the changing face of this neighbourhood.
This street corner nook is also a nice observation perch for people like me who want to stop and simply stare at the world around us.
People snacking, others shopping, still others struggling to find parking space . . .
This is a Sunday evening and as the lights come on, all that I can see are shops, shops and shops.
This is the heart of Besant Nagar. Once a sandy plain.
And here in the bowel of the colony are traffic jams on a Sunday evening. Three traffic policemen gamely manage the chaos - the rush headed to Elliots Beach, the streams originating from Vailankanni Church and the MTC buses leaving the terminus in the far corner.
Traffic jams in Besant Nagar.
Traffic jams in Vannanthurai, 300 metres away.
Traffic jams in Sastri Nagar.
Inner colonies have changed forever. The landscape, the facades, the roads.
How are we going to manage these sweeping changes?
Are we thinking about ways to address them?
Last night, I almost walked into a metal barricade as I took the bend to my hearth. I hadn't expected these barricades to be placed inside a colony. But there were two on each of the four streets, off the intersection.
A couple of nasty accidents had taken place at this junction.
So the police felt that the barricades would slow down rash drivers.
Simple solution indeed!

May 23, 2008

VOX POPS on Neel Metal's performance

I have received a flood of e-mails, blog postings and letters this past week. A record number I should say.
All on the performance of Neel Metal, the private agency contracted by Chennai Corporation to clear garbage in four city zones.
And since we would like to encourage other voices to be heard, I felt I would take a back seat this week and present excerpts of some of the comments. More comments are welcome!

Vaishna Roy said - Neel Metal is making an awful hash of it. They are neither professional nor thorough. Only the bin is emptied - pavements, streets and gutters are left filled with leaves, blown-away paper and plastic bags. I remember the system of separating garbage had been started but that's all over now. If there is a movement against Neel Metal, I would like to be part of it.

An anonymous comment went - You are being generous to Neel Metal. They get only 1/10 in my book. The staff are rude and clean areas only near politicians' houses. Onyx was far better any day.

A resident of 6th Cross Street, CIT Colony writes - I would second the anonymous writer in awarding 1/10. Even after repeated phone calls to the Corporation office in the area and sometimes to the AC, the situation has not improved.

Another 'anonymous' comment - I fully endorse your views on Neel Metal and the pathetic show. It should be 0/10. The vast ground behind TTK Hospital (Indira Nagar) has become a dumping ground for Neel Metal. Something has to be done and urgently too, otherwise the whole of Indira Nagar would become one big garbage dump.

Another 'anonymous' comment - Neel Metal Fanalca is a miserable failure. Can we get Onyx back and dump Neel Metal?

Radha Gopalakrishnan of Kalakshetra Colony wrote in - I think you are being very generous in rating Neel Metal Fanalca 3 on a scale of 10. Please come to Kalakshetra Colony: you might revise your figures! We would give it a zero rating.
Months ago, Kalakshetra Colony Welfare Association organised a public meeting with N M F and the Chennai Corporation and invited residents of the Colony to come along and participate. It was clearly a sycophantic exercise.

Xavier Pillai of Kasturba Nagar, Adyar said - Bins in certain areas are emptied only on occasions and not at frequent intervals. Sufficient bins have not been provided. The sweepers appear on occasions - they sweep the garbage, pile it up and leave it there without collecting it!

Ramamani wrote to say - I live in CIT Colony and have been witness to their "good work" in keeping the city clean. It looks like Neel Metal's city is restricted to CIT Colony's First Main Road sector.
Neel Metal has not done its job.

T N Swaminathan of Sastri Nagar (Adyar) says - You have been generous in giving a score of 3/10. I would give them 0. Sastri Nagar streets are seldom swept. The question now is - what can we do beyond an audit to throw Neel Metal Fanalca out and get Onyx back? A signature campaign?

May 16, 2008

An audit of Neel Metal is due . . .

Are you really satisfied with the performance of Neel Metal Fanalca?
Yes or No?
If you are, tell us what you think is good about its work.
If you aren't, vent your feelings.
For, it is time people took a close and hard look at Neel Metal, the private garbage clearing agency engaged by the Chennai Corporation to work in four of the ten zones of this city.
If you asked for my opinion, I'd rate it 3 on a scale of 10.Yes, 3/10.On a summer afternoon, I would say 2.5.
First of all, I think the operations of Neel Metal are not all that hunky dory. And this has been the case from the time it was given the contract.
(I will leave the Chennai Corporation out of this column for now.)
Their launch was a disaster. Their follow-up was lame.
Now, this company seems to work on a leg and a half!
Its staff are disorganised at work. And that is evident on our streets and roads.
The door-to-door garbage clearance plan (which was slipped in quietly after it began its operations) has not been a strong one.Today, waste lies on all our streets. Off and on, it is cleared.
But this is not done systematically.
Bins overflow. The stink hangs around in many corners.
And that is why Neel Metal deserves just 3 on 10.
And yet, there has not been a concerted effort by us to audit the performance of a vital private operator who is paid our monies. To have an Open House on this subject. And to get the company to deliver or quit.
I have not come across many people who have sung the praises of Neel Metal.
I think there are more people who positively acknowledge the record of Onyx which did the same job earlier.
So if you value the taxes you pay the state, it is time to express your opinion loudly first and then be part of an effort to audit the company who is paid to clear waste and keep our city clean.

May 10, 2008

Blogs on Neighbourhoods . . .

Do you still read 'The Hindu'?
Or are you taking a look at the 'Times of India'?
Perhaps, you buy three newspapers - 'The Hindu', the 'Times' and the DC ('Deccan Chronicle').
You may not have the time to read all three but for less than ten rupees you can pick your choice from the 92 pages at your doorstep. And we haven't forgotten 'The New Indian Express', redesigned, repackaged and ready to be part of the newspapers' battle in this
city.For the past four weeks, a small group of us have been looking a bit more closely at all these four dailies.Now, we can take a break.
For, our annual Journalism Camp for senior school students has just closed. We began with the dailies, we lived with them and we learnt some thing from all of them. Some good, some not so good. Our group has always been small and out of the group, are a few sparks who go on to sparkle.
A very positive outcome of this year's programme has been the steady stream of writing assignments that the young people have accomplished. They are all posted on a blog ( There are a few pictures too. And jottings on what took place every day.
The experience has been varied.
Last Tuesday, we landed at the NDTV's Chennai bureau and found correspondent Sam Daniel
getting entangled into a breaking story - related to the wall that had been built to separate a Dalit and a upper caste community in the Madurai region.Sam lectured gamely between phone calls and 'to camera' feeds for two morning news bulletins.
All of this was a great learning experience for the students who join our camp to get an idea of what journalism is all about.
In the days ahead, three participants who reside in the same neighbourhood may launch a Net initiative.
A blog for Thiruvanmiyur perhaps.
Populating the blog will not be so difficult for this trio. They now know how to seek news and info, how to interview people and ferret details and how to write and post.If their initiative moves forward, then they will network with the livewires of Thiruvanmiyur and enrich this blog and create the buzz.
Neighbourhoods need to have such initiatives going.
Lets see what happens with this trio.

May 03, 2008

Homeless in Chennai

This happened in January this year.
The annual Mylapore festival was on on the Mada Streets and I was taking a short break between the folk performances on the main stage.
A middle aged woman came up to me and introduced herself.
She said she had met me a long time ago and was aware that I was a journalist.
But now she wondered if I had a few minutes to spare.
She quickly told me about the serious problems that people like her had to face in Mylapore.
Families who lived in rented houses or apartments were being asked to vacate the place the moment the contracts expired.
Or, if they wished to stay on, then they would have to pay double the rent.
She said she was paying a rent of two thousand five hundred for a small place off the crowded streets of Mylapore.
Now, the house owner had found people who were willing to pay four thousand.
Hers was not a rare case, she said. Lots of middle class families faced the prospect of moving out of the core city areas where they had resided for decades and seek a roof in the suburbs.
Because house rentals had shot up.
I let that story pass.
But over the past few months, this story has been coming back. Only, the voices are different. The people though are from the same background.
A serious social churning is going on in our city.
Middle class families who cannot afford their own hearths and have resided for years on the streets and lanes of Triplicane and Mylapore, Royapettah and Mambalam, Nungambakkam and Alwarpet are told to get out.
For, a new set of people can now afford to pay fancy rents for accommodation in the city centre. And these are people who enjoy the fruits of the new economy.
Are there public platforms for 'deprived' communities to discuss such issues?
Are there forums where urban matters are seriously considered?
This past week, an NGO - Nandini Voice for the Deprived - hosted a meeting for families who have been severely affected by shooting rentals.
Is this a voice in the wilderness?