Monday, August 26, 2013

Airport Metro-rail work not moving

Construction work on the Chennai OTA-Airport section of the metro-rail has been brought to a stand still, with the sacking of the contractors. They, presumably,deserved the sack much earlier, for their dismal pace of progress in work. With barely 8 months left for the April 2014 target the contractors - Lanco Infratech Ltd. - had 70 percent job unfinished when the Chennai Metro-Rail authorities chose to terminate the contract.

And, they say, it would take 3 to 4 months for them to finalize a fresh contractor. Upshot is an indefinite delay in project completion, well beyond the the April 2014 target. That the cost of the delay (who computes it, and how ?) would be borne by Lanco Infratech is no consolation for the travelling public. You and I have now no idea when the job on the 5-km metro-rail would get done, eventually.

We are accustomed to a state of affairs where completion of a contracted public project on time is more an exception than the rule. A more pertinent question is: why did Chennai Metro-Rail take so long to take action ? They wake up only months before the April 2014 target date, when the late-Latif of a contractors  have so much as 70 percent work yet to be done, on the metro-rail stretch between OTA and Airport.

What has the monitoring agency been doing till now ? Shouldn't Chennai Metro-rail officials responsible for shoddy monitoring be identified and penalized ? Maybe,  you can't touch their basic pay, but shouldn't their pay-hike and promotion be held up for the duration of the work delay ?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dial-a-rickshaw service for OMR ?

Prompted by  a media write-up on Green Rickshaw, Mr Gopalan R and I did some loud thinking at OMR Greens meeting on Sat. at Mantri's front-lawns. Idea is  to promote dial-a-rickshaw service to cover short distances, between and within residential communities on OMR.

Navdeep Asija, founder of  Ecocabs, says a steel-frame, lighter weight three-wheeler that they have designed costs between Rs.13,500 and Rs.15,000 in Punjab. OMR Greens members could identify three unemployed local youths - in Padur-Kelambakkam area - willing  become self-employed owner-rickshaw operators, with help from OMR Greens. If an aspirant rickshaw-owner raises Rs.5,000 for a green rickshaw, OMR Greens could consider loaning him the other Rs.10,000, interest-free, and repayable on easy terms.

This is the Green Wheels programme that OMR Greens could initiate. To start with, we aspire to help  three unemployed local youth in getting rickshaws..The rickshaws, funded with OMR Greens loan, would be painted green, and carry Green Wheels logo. The rickshaw-owners would get the benefit of interest-free loan for promoting the green cause through their vehicle.

Loan requirement of Rs.30,000, for three rickshaws can be raised through contribution by OMR Greens members, repayable when rickshaw loans are repaid. If OMR Greeners are willing, their amounts can be ploughed back for helping some more unemployed youths.

Hopefully, the three green wheel, light-weight rickshaws we introduce in Padur-Kelambakkam area, would prompt others to introduce dial-a-rickshaw service elsewhere on OMR .

As of now, auto-rickshaws charge Rs.50 for a trip from Padur to kelambakkam; Rs.40 from Mantri gate to Chettinad Hospital; Rs.30 from Padur Hindustan University stand to X S Real apartments adjacent to Mantri synergy. If we  Green wheel rickshaws charge two-thirds of the auto-fare, it will still be to the advantage of both rickshaw-owner and his customers.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rain clouds over OMR

Such  was the scene, captured from my 9th floor apartment at Padur, on Friday (Aug.16) afternoon. It started raining within a few minutes after this shot was taken.
This was when I switched to the video mode to capture the sharp showers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Phone-in rickshaw for suburbs

Navdeep Asija, a transportation expert,  has come up with a concept for organizing cycle rickshaw-operators into a service group to provide on-call rickshaw service for people. Chandigarh is in the process of putting in place a dial-a-rickshaw service, to mobilize city rickshaw-operators under the phone-in programme.

Organisers  are in the process of  data collection of rickshawallahs with cell phone (who hasn't a phone, nowadays ?)  in Chandigarh's 170 cycle-rickshaw stands. Idea is to publish  Yellow Page that gives area-wise details of rickshaw-operators -  their name, photo, mobile number and the list of the areas where they are available. The data is crowd-sourced, and rickshaw users are encouraged to send in for inclusion in the list, details of rickshaw operators they know of in their localities.

The Chandigarh Ecocab service has been put together by a 14-member team led by  Navdeep Asija. Navdeep who pioneered a movement to turn congested segments of our cities into car-free zone, started with his native Fazilka,  where  ther Clock Tower market area was made a pedestrian paradise. Later. the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in its directive on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), asked the authorities to identify and establish vehicle free areas in each town and city of Punjab.

The Ecocab has designed an all-steel rickshaw that weighs some 20 odd kg. less than the conventional one (90-95 kg), making Ecocab rickshaw  easier to operate. Besides Fazilka and Chandigarh  Ecocab phone-in service are being developed in Amritsar and Patiala, where a non-profit group has launched the Green cabs. They provide operators with a relatively lighter-in-weight rickshaw, and a membership card that ensures rickshaw-operators free medical check up, concessional treatment, concessional lab investigations. Rickshawallahs  would be entitled to discounted medicine at designated medical shops. The Patiala Green Cabs seeks to provide members with Insurance, uniforms and also help them increase their earnings through new advertisement concepts.

I thought of doing this post about  Punjap Ecocab service in this  blog that  relates  to OMR area in Chennai, in the hope that some enterprising soul here  would take the  initiative to launch Ecocab service for short-distance transport network in OMR area. Rickshaw service would be ideal for covering places within a distance of one to five km. - i.e.  Siruseri bus stop on OMR to the IT offices complex; from Padur (where I live ) to Kelambakkam. Some emerging residential complexes on OMR are so big and extensive that a rickshaw operator would find it viable  to work within the complex. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Padur Lake degenerates

Padur Lake in March this year

The lake in our Padur neighbourhood of OMR is drying up. Nay, it is being killed willfully; systematically abused, by people for bathing, cleaning their vehicles, including heavy duty trucks, mining sand from lake bed, and turning  lakeside a dumping yard for household, and building construction debris.

In the past five months, since March last when OMR Greens visited the lake last, its water level has receded to floor level in several places. Yesterday (Aug.4) Six of us  - Gopalan R, Srinivasan, Sridhar P S, Rajaram, Arun Pillai and I - made a re-visit, only to be deeply disappointed.

The man-made ravage we witnessed on virtually a dry lake bed was way beyond our worst fears. Sand mining mafia has hacked up the lake bed into dug-outs. Property builders have dumped construction debris all along the lakeside. A dense outgrowth of thorny karuvelam is used as open toilet. Karuvelam  is considered among the worst of the species harming environment. Clearing the surroundings of the lake of the karuvelam outgrowth appears an impossible task. Extensive litter of construction debris, apparently not just from Padur neighbourhood, but brought from far out on OMR, is a fresh lakeside development that was  not evident, not so extensively at any rate, five months back during OMR Greens last visit.

Irony is that OMR Greens were counting on participation of property developers on OMR in our plan for Padur Lake conservation. Here we see developers dumping their debris on the lakeside.Sand mining the lake bed appears to have developed into a thriving business, which cannot go on without endorsement by unscrupulous elements in local panchayat.The sand-miners find it convenient to wash their trucks in the receding lake water.

That Padur Lake serves as the prime drinking water source for an ever increasing population of Padur and its OMR neighbourhood make lake conservation imperative. The drinking water scheme implemented with ADB loan of Rs.126 lakhs not so long ago would soon go waste if  Padur and other OMR residents do not raise their voice to put an end to the reckless abuse of Padur Lake.  

Meanwhile, we heard from Mr Sureshkumar of V-R Volunteers about their plan. Mr Kumar, a software professional, says his group are in touch with consultant Dr Umashankar who has counselled the authorities in respect of conservation of water bodies, notably Periyakulam lake in Coimbatore. A group from V-R Volunteers  led by Mr Kumar is expected to visit Padur Lake this weekend.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Verghese Proposal for Muthukadu Lake

Muthukadu Lake, ECR
Our post on OMR Greens plan for Padur lake prompts director Ashok Verghese of Hindustan University to suggest 'a more ambitious plan,  to turn Lake Muthukadu into a facility of national importance, attracting even international attention'. He refers to Kerala's tourism-driven sea-plane concept for the state's lakes and backwaters.

Says Mr Verghese: "How about we propose 'Lake Muthukadu - Destination for Adventure & Beauty'. That the lake is virtually at the backyard of Hindustan University campus should facilitate its Dept. of Environment to take up the needed studies and survey to turn the Verghese Proposal into a full-fledged project plan for Lake Muthukadu.

Mr Verghese refers to the conspicuous absence of a marina on the Chennai water front. As he put it, " all coastal cities have beautiful Marinas where 1000's of boats are anchored. From million-dollar yachts to the common sail boats are parked safely. This will promote citizens to enjoy & experience first hand the wonders of the oceans".

Whether Lake Muthukadu would lend itself for development into a marina of the kind Mr Verghese has in mind  is quite another matter , Snag with Muthukadu is that an ECR road bridge runs right across  Lake, splitting the sprawling water-body into two parts.

As director , Mr Verghese has the resources to back up his proposal with a project study, which can be taken up by the Hindustan university Dept.of Environment sciences.  OMR Greens, with a project report and support  from Hindustan University, would be on a strong wicket to take the proposal forward with the govt. and other stake-holders - OMR residential communities, I T companies with CSR funds, property developers and local panchayats.

Earlier this year, Tamil Nadu Public Works Department minister K.V. Ramalingam said in the State Assembly that the waterbodies in the fringes of the city would be developed as recreational spaces. The government's interest in promoting the ECR belt, coupled with the minister's statement in the state legislature on development of lakes, ought to help us push our case for Padur and Muthukadu lakes with the stakeholders.

OMR Greens plan for Padur Lake

Padur Lake, OMR, 
The idea for a plan to develop the lake in the Padur  neighbourhood on OMR,Chennai, came up during a visit of OMR Greens, comprising mainly  Mantri Synergy residents. Most of us were there for the first time; and there are folks in our OMR neighbourhood who are not even aware of the existence of a natural water body with potential to be developed into a recreational area.

Our visit was an eye-opener, in the sense that we found the lake was being subject to reckless abuse by residents in the vicinity of the lake. Besides washing clothes and bathing, vehicle owners brought their three-wheelers and even trucks for a wash in the lake water. Those who stray into the lakeside for an early morning walk may find themselves intruding into the morning routine of people who come there because of lack of toilet facilities in their houses.

A key lesson we learned  during OMR Greens visit was that any lake conservation programme has to start with mobilizing opinion among residents in the neighbourhood; and building a row of public toilets on the lakeside. The provision of public toilets would enable us to gain local support to put up a fence. blocking public access to the water front.

 V R Volunteers, a group of service-minded IT professionals at Kelambakkam, has offered to carry out a lakeside cleaning programme. They can also be involved in creating public awareness among Padur residents. Considering that  a drinking water scheme with lakeside pumping station was implemented with Asian Development Bank loan in 2008, makes lake protection imperative, if this water body has to remain a source of drinking water. Lakeside fencing and provision of public toilets would be a necessary first phase of Padur Lake  development.

The measure of our success in mobilising support from panchayat, neighbourhood high-rise residents, Hindustan University, and IT companies with funds for such community projects for the initial phase would determine the course of the second phase for development of the lakeside into a recreational zone, with walkway,  jogging track, open-air theatre and children's play area. Turning Padur lake into a recreational zone would, in the medium-term, help raise property value in the Padur neighbourhood.