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Chennai residents 'suffering': Faulty design, implementation of storm water project

By NS Venkataraman* 

The Greater Chennai Corporation is now implementing storm water drainage project in 559 roads, covering a distance of 1033 kilometres, which cost around Rs 4,070 crore. For this massive project, which is targeted to be completed between April and September this year, huge loan has been availed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others.
Several technocrats have pointed out that the project has been designed with outdated technology and quality of the implementation is so poor that the residents have been put to great hardships.
As part of the project, digging of the road has been done to around 5 to 6 feet deep and width of around 4 to 5 feet. The drains are being constructed using steel reinforced cement concrete with two walls on either side with provisions for manhole, chute etc. This has been done in front of several houses leaving little space between the gate of the house and that of the drainage structure.
As the work has been going on for more than three weeks now , many residents are unable to step out of the house . While young and middle aged persons somehow manage to jump out by some make shift arrangement, several senior citizens have been forced to remain inside the house for several days now.
Experts have expressed shock that the storm water drain has been constructed in such a way that its top level is around one foot above the road level. Residents have now to keep their vehicles (two wheelers and four wheelers) outside their compounds on the road due to the ongoing storm water drain age work, as the digging of the road has been done in front of the house in several places.
They wonder whether they would be able to take their vehicles inside their compound after the completion of the drainage work, since the road level is now around one foot below that of the top portion of the drainage structure. Further, if there would be rainfall, the rain water would get inside the house as the top portion of the drainage structure is above the floor level in the house. As a result, it appears that the residents have to spend around Rs 1 lakh to raise the floor level in the compound to the top level of the drainage structure.
No one is clear now as to whether the Chennai Corporation would raise the road level by one foot to match the level of the drainage structure. To do this, several hundred crores of rupees would be required with the length of the storm water drainage around the city being more than 1,000 kilometres. The Chennai Corporation has not clarified as to what it would do. No one knows when a new road would be laid. 
The road laying scheme is another project for the Chennai Corporation and there is no indication that any scheme has been proposed to raise the level of the road immediately after the storm water drainage work would be over. The affected residents seem to have tough days ahead.
Several cables that have been lying under the ground have been taken out and are now carelessly handled and remain exposed to sun and rain for several days. Telephone connection in several houses have been disrupted since the cables have been cut inadvertently while digging.
Experts point out that in constructing the storm water drain , gradient have to be maintained to enable free flow of water. It appears no measurement has been made to ensure the gradient level. The area around the storm water drainage structure where soil has been removed earlier has been now filled with loose soil, posing safety hazard for people.
It is shocking to see that the workers, most of whom appear to be unskilled, are carrying out the work and removing the electric cables from the ground carelessly without being provided with the hand gloves gumboots and safety goggles. Several citizens say that there have been no proper supervision of the work by the authorities and the entire work is left to the contractors who largely employ unskilled workers.
Also, it appears that there is no uniform schedule for work timing and suddenly some workers with loaded lorries appear in the middle of the night and start working making huge noise, disturbing the sleep of the residents. They do not seem to realise that working during night hours with inadequate street lighting could be a serious safety risk for the workers.
Residents say that the complaints sent to the Commissioner, Chennai Corporation, are not being acknowledged
Experts wonder whether the various technological options and alternate ways for laying the storm water drain have been carefully examined, considering the local conditions in Chennai such as rain fall intensity , periodicity of flooding, extent of flooding, the existing road construction and traffic intensity and density of population in the local area. On the other hand, the same design have been adopted for the entire city, not considering the local conditions.
Careful evaluation of these factors are necessary that could have facilitated the least expensive way for building storm water drain, that can be finished in quick time without causing inconvenience and problems for the residents.
It appears that the authorities have chosen the most expensive and time consuming way of laying storm water drain, by digging deep into the soil and using steel reinforced concrete, chute pipe , manhole cover, inlet chambers, retailing wall etc.
Experts say that in a crowded city like Chennai, drainage pipes could have been used for draining the storm water and the pipes can be laid under the ground, instead of the present pattern of ongoing work. There are PVC and HDPE pipe options, both of which have become extremely popular in drainage applications in recent years all over the world, thanks to their resistance to collapse and chemical corrosion, flexibility and durability.
While PVC pipes are quite easy to install, HDPE is generally the better choice for high pressure systems. Suitable provisions can be made in the pipes for connection, inspection, cleaning etc. from time to time, as required.
In view of the poor execution of the project, several roads are now in an extremely bad shape and it is unsafe even for walkers, apart from those who drive the two wheelers, three wheelers and four wheelers.
There are many experts in Chennai city on such matter who know what they are talking about. They have not been consulted before deciding on the project. Residents say that the complaints sent to the Commissioner, Chennai Corporation, are not acknowledged. While a portal has been created for the citizens to register their complaints, only a routine reply is sent that the work is being attended.
With the dust accumulation, heavy noise and lack of accessibility to the road for around three weeks now due to the storm water drainage project and the project being half completed now and moving at snail’s pace, the residents have been really stressed out . It appears that their suffering would not end anytime soon. Frustration of the Chennai residents is complete.
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai

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