This incredibly sad story of a young woman dying in a road accident a day before she was to wed is from Chennai, India. It is one of the thousands of avoidable deaths that occur with frightening frequency in this country.
These pictures from Chennai Central early this morning show how dirty this premier Southern Railway terminus is. The station building itself is a stately structure, but the environs are full of filth, mud, debris and other assorted garbage occupying valuable space.
The general approach to disaster in Tamil Nadu today is worrying. Without holding a brief for anyone in the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan student death case (read the report here) it is legitimate to ask whether the lower level staff were sufficiently empowered to ensure safety of children.
If indeed there were safety lapses and they had no way to resolve them because they lacked the authority, the answers for what happened would lie with the management. Of late, there have been numerous fatal accidents in Chennai, of which the incident involving Sruthi, a child studying in Zion Matriculation School who fell through a hole on the floor of the bus and died, is the most prominent. In that particular case, the RTO was clearly at fault, as it had issued a Fitness Certificate for the vehicle only recently.
The key question in such incidents is about negligence or refusal to heed warnings of safety risks. That has to be proved using transparent, credible investigation. Some of the worst and highly visible negligence is attributable to official agencies in charge of safety. Examples are RTOs, Lift Inspectorate, and Food Safety authorities, who are openly corrupt and yet have no real liability when things go wrong.
It is important to point out that criminalising everything will leave high-risk jobs such as swimming instructors open only to those with the strongest politician-police-underworld connections, and not serve the cause of children’s safety, because such individuals cannot be touched even they have been negligent or motivated. The better choice would be to professionalise the system, empower and train in disaster management, before demanding accountability.
My Urban Jungle column in The Hindu on the difficulty of being a pedestrian in Chennai published today, is here. This column is part of a series on the city, and looks at the many aspects of suburbia from a personal viewpoint.
My ‘Urban Jungle’ column in The Hindu today is here and it looks at the plight of people who literally fall by the wayside in Chennai, and whether they stand a chance of being rescued. The story is centred around this old man who has collapsed in a quiet corner of Kodambakkam, across the road from the Risen Redeemer’s Church in United India Colony.
I have posted it here with a question on older adults in Chennai because there is a helpline that is supposed to work for their welfare. What I found is revealing. Based on my column, The Hindu’s Chennai bureau wrote a piece on the helpline, and you can read that here.
What is view on the prospects for older citizens who want to live in this increasingly crowded city? You could comment here on the blog or on the website of The Hindu. If you want to explore HelpAge India’s website, it is here.
This scene on a busy Chennai road is a powerful visual of what the streets of the city are today, for people who have fallen afoul of the consumptive economy. As one of the most densely populated cities in India today, Tamil Nadu’s capital is witnessing a fast deterioration in the quality of life. Real public investment has been shrinking and virtually disappeared after last year’s state elections brought the AIADMK to power. The city has a significant slum population, scorching speculation in property, withdrawal of the government from welfare sectors (in spite of high profile announcements to the contrary), and sheer lack of public circulating space.
An old, bent woman making her way along one of the crowded roads in Kodambakkam may be unremarkable to those who have lost touch with the reality that most citizens encounter. This arthritic older adult is almost at the centre of the road, moving ahead painfully with the help of a stick. This is Station View Road. The space at right is actually illusory for walkers, because it is created by a commercial establishment for its own purposes, is not continuous, and pushes a walking person to the centre at several points closer to the suburban railway station.
I remember the spaces available to old people about the age of this woman on the streets of Barcelona when I visited that magnificent city in 2010. Retirees were enjoying themselves, walking along nicely demarcated and smooth footpaths, in groups, chatting. It was a picture of contentment, afforded in part by civic order. What a contrast!
Until Chennai is brought to its senses, and forced to identify clear walking spaces along the margins of its roads, it will remain at the bottom of civilised practice, as this recent news report on walkability in India in the Times of India points out.