Sunday, June 22, 2008

People, mostly foreigners I have come in contact with, tell me I’m privileged to be an inhabitant of God’s own Country. So True! After all, where else do you get tantalizing glimpses of a bustling city nestled amidst swaying palm trees, fishing nets fluttering in the breeze, an amazing harbour view, an over-flowing drainage system that doubles as a breeding ground for malaria… oops! Did I just say that? Yes, I guess I did! With good reason as well!

I’m not a pessimist. In fact, I prefer to see the glass half-full than half-empty. But lately, I’ve had an over-whelming urge to see the city drains and canals empty. And that’s not all. The Kudumbashree project on waste collection and management insist that houses divide their refuse into degradable and non-degradable wastes. Fair enough! But please do tell us where the plastic waste goes… Because if its goes into my next-door-neighbour’s-empty-plot, I can do it myself, thank you! Besides, I’d like the exercise. And commenting on another peculiar quirk city-bred people have, consider this one a note-to-self – throw waste into strategically placed community wastebaskets, not around it!

The police here regularly thrash party protestors. I can see why they’d feel the need to pout and sulk. Sure, we sympathize. But really, lets be practical here. Closing down educational institutes does not work in their favour. Strikes, hartal and lockdowns do work in your favour when you want to laze around, but too much of it and they lose their appeal. Oh! And lets not forget the public transport here! The ‘poor man’s taxi’ is amazingly efficient. It’s a foreigner’s desi amusement park, minus the amusement. Buses speed and fly down the road, run over hapless pedestrians who fail to get out of their way in time, jerk and jump on potholed roads, break when you least expect it and leave you coming out of them wondering if you’ve been given a second lease on life.

Lastly, but not the least, the Cochin Municipality has a website that doesn’t work. It cannot link beyond web pages relating to ‘Kerala History’ or ‘Kerala Tourism’. Everything else states ‘Coming soon…thank you for visiting.’ But, how soon is soon? That’s the perennial question. And we actually seek to call ourselves a metro?

Enforcing laws??? Not my job!!!

Our land is often referred to as 'God's own country' , however, I am of the opinion that this name should be changed into something like 'Laws' own country' for we have umpteen number of laws governing each and every action of ours. As one may remark rather jovially, we have laws to regulate even our food and sleep! it is rather interesting to find the diverse fields that these laws cover...has it ever occurred to anyone of us that it is an offense to receive anything valued over a certain amount of money (Rs.5000/-, if my memory serves me) through post?? likewise, it is an s according to the Kerala Municipalities Act, 1994, to be carrying waste in open vehicles...this should be a rude shock to the Kochietes who are used to seeing waste being carried in open lorries...last month, I happened to see a Corporation Lorry with waste stuffed into every nook and corner of its body, I am enclosing its picture for you to have a look...

From the first of this June, throwing waste into public places has been made punishable by means of a Bye-Law enacted by the Cochin Corporation. The Corporation warned people of specialized squads that will catch hold of those neglecting the law, still we find our city roads flocked with waste...the reason may be two- 1. People are adamant that they wont obey the laws, 2. there is lack of enough alternative mechanisms. However, my brain makes me believe that the second one would be the probable cause. I am not trying to glorify those who throw waste into public roads, never, that is necessarily an act to be condemned, yet, what would i and you do when we have absolutely no means to dispose off the waste? in such a situation, may be my conscience and yours would suggest that we be practical rather than theoretical...whenever we try implementing something new, we should ensure a smooth passage from the existing mechanism to the new one, otherwise utter chaos would be the result. I strongly believe that the above problem of waste could have been efficiently tackled by installing an efficient door-to-door waste collection mechanism. In my talks with the door-to-door waste collectors in the city, i have come to know that whenever some problem is sighted, they are given instructions at once to stop collecting waste, so the smooth functioning of the system becomes jeopardized, which causes people to search for indigenous alternatives. This is not how the system should work, is it?

One word about the police as well. Our Police has immense powers by virtue of our laws, but it is rather funny at times observing how they function. Police flying squads are often sighted in the city roads waiting to pounce upon those drivers who do not wear their seat belts. I wonder how many of us would have seen a single police vehicle in a highway, doing the same act, where there is an actual necessity for wearing seat belts? I am yet to figure out which is more probable, getting killed for not having worn seat belts in city roads where the speed limit is 35 km/hr or in the highways where the speed limit is 70 km/hr? From where i live, i often get to enjoy the entertaining police checks in the roads. I am rather amused to see that policemen are more interested in th health of people traveling in costlier cars, rather than in common man's vehicles. Has our police derogated to the level of money mongers???

Friday, June 13, 2008

JNNURM and Cochin

Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has been a selling point of UPA Government. Though many disagree with the way of implementation of JNNURM, the concept has been a catchy word for many poilcy makers. Let us look at what Cochin has achieved under JNNURM Project.
4. Overall Status of Cochin under JNNURM cities
While I was going through the documents, I was shocked to see some of them. I dont remember any plan meeting held in city to seek the interest of Cochiates to develop CDP. Have you heard of anything of that sort? How many of are aware of these projects in city? Unfortunately we have one of the very funny corporation websites (@) to know about all these developments. I will write more on the corporation website on my next posting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Traffic and Transport in Cochin

City Traffic and Transport has been at the doldrums over the time. In efficient or lack of planning are sited the reasons often. It is interesting to read these write ups appeared in Hindu on June 5, 2008

Traffic snarls a regular feature

G. Krishnakumar

It is 9.30 a.m. Decibel levels at Sahodaran Ayyappan Road have long exceeded the acceptable ranges. The entire stretch is teeming with persistently honking vehicles.

A screaming ambulance tries desperately to steer its way through this route locked in both directions. Inside the ambulance, Ramesh, the driver, is sweating and stretching out to the drivers seeking help. After a painful wait, he somehow manages to squeeze his way out from the bottleneck.

“It has become a regular thing to get trapped in this congestion. It takes at least 20-25 minutes for an ambulance to reach Pallimukku junction from Vyttila on a busy day. The toughest part is to clear the Kadavanthara-Panampilly Nagar-South Railway over bridge stretch,” says Mr. Ramesh.

No one wants to be on the roads of Kochi in a critical condition, requiring urgent medical help. Not even a daring driver like Ramesh.

Official records available with the Regional Transport Office pointed out that about 5.5 lakh vehicles ply in Ernakulam district. The numbers are growing.

Records said that about 2,000 vehicles are registered in the city limits a month; 85 per cent of which are private vehicles. The widening gap between the growing number of vehicles and the lack of infrastructure has turned life worse for the average Kochiite.

Geevarghese Oommen, a computer dealer in the city who rides a motor cycle to reach his office, says: “It takes at least 45 minutes for me to cover the Elamkulam -Manorama junction stretch in the morning. During rains, it exceeds one hour. Who is there to address the problems of the common man? For the last 12 years, authorities have been saying that crores of rupees had been spent on developing the Sahodaran Ayappan road. But will someone show me the results?”

Unscientific planning

Unscientific planning remains the bane of the city. Road widening projects have come to a halt in many areas, thanks to red-tapism and lack of funds. Entry points to the city are often choked with heavy vehicles. An accident or a rally is all it takes to throw normal life out of gear.

Rajeev Aravindh, a marketing professional in the city who travels at least 30 km everyday in his car, says that the Vyttila-Maradu route often provides a nightmarish experience for the travellers. “I was caught up in the snarl-up for more than one hour last week. I could not move even an inch. It took me more than two hours to reach my home at Thoppumpady. We are not even able to ensure smooth traffic of private vehicles in the city. How will the authorities then provide adequate infrastructure for projects worth crores of rupees like the Vallarpadom container terminal and Smart City?” he asks.

Work on railway over bridges and flyovers are also pending. The Edappally railway over bridge, the local residents say, will never become a reality going by its current pace.

“Traffic snarl-ups are also common in places like Aluva and Angamaly. The planners should try to come up with projects that would ease the congestion in these towns in tandem with the proposed mega projects for the city. But here nothing will happen, as individual interests always overtake the overall welfare of the public,” he says.

Parallel roads are the key

Shyama Rajagopal

Town planning experts suggest that several entry points into a city area are a must for a bustling commercial place that is growing. However, Kochi city has grown over the last decade with only a few entry points into the main commercial area.

The North and South overbridges were the only two entry points though Thevara became another one because of the Kundanoor bridges. But, the traffic mostly travel across the first two bridges.

Development of a few parallel roads to the North-South corridor and the East-West corridors will decongest the arterial roads of the city considerably, said a town planner. Thammanam-Pulleppady Road is one such that was started with a big fanfare. However, this very important infrastructure remains unfinished as the rail overbridge is not completed.

The road would decongest a lot of traffic from Banerjee Road and M.G. Road as it would be an exit and entry point from the Kakkanad side. In fact, the Master Plan by the Town Planning department calls it the CBD-IT city road.

Likewise, there are other roads like Karshaka Road, Chilavanoor Bund Road, Salim Rajan Road and Kaloor-Kadavanthara-Pottekuzhi Road which when developed, will take away a major chunk of traffic from the main arterial roads like the Sahodaran Ayyappan Road, Chittoor Road and M.G. Road.

The Greater Cochin Development Authority had quite some time ago, developed detailed project reports for at least 16 corridors in the city. Similarly, roads leading to suburban areas such as Thripunithura are most congested with peak time traffic spilling over. People’s voices have been raised to develop the Kaniyampuzha Road from Vytilla to Eroor, Thripunithura, which would provide a parallel connectivity to the main town of Thripunithura as well.

A bridge from Maradu to Thripunithura, running parallel to the iron bridge and the Petta bridge would take traffic coming from Alappuzha side to Vaikom without touching Thripunithura town. However, the route of the road continues to be disputed. Infrastructure development is basically the government’s job and land acquisition for the same needs to be done much earlier so that there are few hurdles when a project is launched, said a town planning expert. But, as the Master Plan continues to be made over several years, the local bodies do not have a document to fall back upon.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pedestrian Audit

In the earlier post, I had mentioned about Pedestrian Audit. In most of the developed countries, pedestrians keep a check on the works undertaken by the local municipal corporation. If the local administration fails to keep the minimum standards set by the national government and the authorised agencies while building the pavements and side walks, they can be under the censure of the local mass who frequently use these facilities. Pedestrian audit standards and the methodology are very much available on web. The local audit team will be instituted and they will conduct the survey and then they will publish the report. Since Tort laws are very much in use in these countries, any violation of the standards set can lead to court cases. Some of the interesting Pedestrian Audit guidelines can be accessed at these websites.

Centre for Public Policy Research has collected a number of Pedestrian Audit Guidelines. The idea is to educate the local resident associations to conduct the surveys periodically. The other day I observed that from Kakkanad Byepass Junction signal to Palarivattom Juncation, there is enough space for sidewalks. Unfortunately, these side walks are treated like dumping Yards and no one can utilize the space in a meaning ful way. Indian Road Congress presecribes minimum five feet width for the sidewalks in cities. Fortunately, already laid sidewalks have more than five feet width. It means if we can design them properly and maintain them, it can change the whole environment there. Some times, i wish some one to conduct a pedestrian audit and show to the authorities how these small things can change the city landscape.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hand Eye Co-ordination

When i was young, i used to wonder how we are able to lift things from i grew up, i learned that it was due to a phenomenon called 'Hand-Eye co-ordination'. We see something and the eyes transmit it to our brains, our brain then decides if we are to take it or not, if it decides to take the object, it sends messages to the hand which picks the article up. During all these process, both the eyes and the hand works in tandem, resulting in the action. You must be wondering why i am speaking about this while talking about Cochin. The answer is simple, our city lacks this 'Hand-Eye Co-ordination'. We plan a lot of things for our city, but when trying to implement them, things fail to fall in place. I can give you a simple example, our Cochin Corporation came up with a new Bye-law dealing with the topic of Solid Waste which came into force on 1st of June, 2008. As per the Bye-law, all the road side waste bins were to be removed. This was based on the understanding that the Corporation would make arrangements to collect waste from each household. However the present situation is such that, 3 days after the Legislation has come into force, though the road side waste collection bins have been removed, the Corporation is yet to make arrangements to collect waste from the households in many areas of the city! Moreover, there are complaints that the existing waste collection system is facing a break down. The sight of waste lying accumulated on the road sides testifies this awful truth.

It is high time that we realize some ground realities. When we plan something and try to implement it, we should take all the efforts to make sure that things fall in right places at the right times. It is never advisable to keep waiting and see if time would put things in place. If we don't realize this atleast now, city life will become more and more cumbersome. Let us all hope that our Corporation and people learn from the failures and thrive to get this 'Hand-Eye Co-ordination' correct.