An Ever-Green Friday Bazaar

While International organizations are still struggling to come to a consensus on ways to reduce our carbon foot print and pave way for sustainable development, some of the traditional practices followed by our communities are setting examples on this front that call for everyone’s attention. The ideas of reuse and recycle find manifestation in a century old Friday Bazaar or Sandhai (in Tamil) that is organized on every Friday at Pallavaram in the outskirts of Chennai.

Being a resident of Pallavaram, I have been a regular visitor to this bazaar since my childhood. However, I never saw it from the perspective of its contribution to reducing and reusing the city’s waste before I joined Transparent Chennai’s project on solid waste management. Eager to learn more about this century old weekly market, my colleague Pradeepan and I visited it one Friday. We even ascended the nearby Pallavaram hill to get a bird’s eye view of the bazaar in the morning. It was an amazing spectacle; to view the whole stretch of the road, filled with jostling crowds and rows of stalls sheltered under blue and yellow plastic sheet pandals on either side of the road. The entire bazaar stretched for a kilometer starting from Pallavaram railway station at one end to Trisulam railway station at the other. There must have been at least 1000 stalls selling a variety of goods to eager shoppers on that day.

On enquiry we learnt that this weekly bazaar in Pallavaram had started functioning from as early as the 1800s, when traders brought cattle from different places to sell to the soldiers of the British-Indian army settled in the nearby areas. As years passed the bazaar expanded and started selling a variety of goods to the British as well as to the locals. Till recently the Friday bazaar was conducted in an open ground under the control of Pallavaram Cantonment but with the Department of Atomic Energy acquiring the land the bazaar had to be moved to its current location. This shift has only brought good to this bazaar as it helped draw more attention from the public and increased its patronage.

It is no wonder that people from various places have been coming regularly to this bazaar for decades. They can buy almost anything they want from the bazaar at throw away prices and people who can draw a good bargain stand to gain handsomely. As one customer says “one can get anything from this bazaar except for one’s father and mother”. Our day long visit to this market made us realize that such high praise for this market stands true and is not a mere exaggeration. There are a variety of items from cloths to cattle; pets to pen-drives; mobile phones to motorcycles; detergents to DVDs; food stuffs to electronic items; table fans to air-coolers and air-conditioners; lamps, laptops, fruits, fresh vegetables, flower pots, furniture, antiques, an array of household appliances and what not. The most interesting thing to note is that most of the goods are second-hand and people get them at throwaway prices and the poor and middle class feel it to be a boon to them.

Most of the people visiting the bazaar are there to buy second hand goods which are not only cheaper but also in working condition. I too have fond memories of having bought a Panasonic cordless phone for just Rs.100 and it lasted for a whole year after changing its battery. Aside from households and members of the general public, this bazaar also draws professional electricians and mechanics from different places who are looking for spare parts for doing repair works. One vendor reports, “We often have customers looking for parts and accessories for their gadgets that they otherwise could not get from elsewhere”. There are also many engineering students who come to the bazaar looking for hardware to feed their curiosity to explore and experiment with them for their projects and coursework. This bazaar is also a treasure trove for those who love antiques; many people visit the bazaar every week in the hope of finding something precious. The bazaar also caters to the poor who come here to buy old flex boards, old doors and tarpaulin sheets to repair their houses. We observed buyers and sellers not only from all over Chennai but from places as far as Villupuram, Pondycherry, Kancheepuram, and Tiruvallur. As a vendor said, “We come from Chitoor district in Andhra Pradesh to get stuff from here and we sell it in our areas for better rates”.

The vendors who put their stalls in this market come from very diverse sectors. Some of them are raddiwallahs, who collect the goods from households throughout the week and bring them to sell in this market on Fridays. People who own old paper marts also spread out their wares here to sell their collections. Mr.Ganesh, a seller of second-hand furniture said that he sourced his goods through online sites like OLX, Quikr, Justdial etc. There are also people belonging to indigenous communities who earn their living by selling their collectibles and items like beads and jewellery operating in the market.

Technically, every week hundreds of kilograms of e-waste, plastics, fibres, metals and other wastes are being brought to this bazaar and sold, things which would otherwise have ended up filling the dumpyards. Thus this contributes immensely to the reuse and recycling of precious resources which is an important factor for reducing our carbon footprint and also a solution in disguise to the problem of waste management. This weekly bazaar is a good example to showcase how the informal sector contributes to sustainable waste management, something that often goes unnoticed. It is also remarkable for the benefits that it offers to the poor in terms of livelihood opportunities while at the same time helping the locals by offering them useful consumer goods at affordable prices. If working models on resource management like these are identified and promoted then it would become easier for cities to manage their waste sustainably. The draft sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations which are slated to succeed the millennium development goals (MDGs) post 2015 envisage that by 2030 countries should substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction and reuse[1]. Community driven working models like the Pallavaram Weekly Bazaar would help immensely to achieve these if replicated elsewhere in its true spirit.

A bird\'s eye view of the busy bazaar roadJostling crowds in the bazaar.First come! First Served! Curious customers waiting to grab their favourites.A customer is checking the working condition of a generator before buying.Curious eyes looking at antiques that are on display.People of indigenous communities selling their collectibles in the bazaar.The bazaar offers livelihood opportunities for the indigenous communitites.These are used tyres that would otherwise have filled the dump yards.Electronic gadgets like mobile phones are sold at throwaway prices.A cupboard being transported to its new homeTVs, LCDs, home theatres, laptops and what not, you get anything in the bazaar.People who can draw a good bargain stand to gain handsomely.Can you believe these are second-hand products that are up for resale?The bazaar is a treasure trove to people looking for old music albums.Rain or shine the bazaar will not disappoint its customers.A lady selling home-made phenyl and detergents.These are products sold in the bazaar that are otherwise not affordable to the poor.

Written by Vijay Senthil Kumar, researcher, Transparent Chennai

[1]Web Reference:

Interview with John Taylor

John Taylor, Founder of ‘Our City Foundation’, Indonesia recently gave an email interview on citizen engagement in the planning process and community mapping in particular. You can read more about the work of his organization here.

1. What is ‘community planning’?
To me community planning means the participation of citizens in planning decisions together with government. Such planning requires the involvement of people, who are not planners nor have any particular technical background in planning; basically everyday people. These people have opinions and needs, but don’t necessarily know how to articulate these in the way that engineers or planners do. So I think that community planning requires the ability to translate concepts and ideas back and forth between these two different groups in a way that helps construct a dialogue between them, a dialogue where both government and community can understand each other. Through such a dialogue, they can come to some pretty innovative and interesting solutions, and this I think is the desired outcome of community planning. Participation requires outreach, making information available in an accessible and legible way, and deliberation and constructive dialogue.

2. How can community planning help solve civic issues?
Community planning alone won’t – and doesn’t claim to – solve civic issues, but it is a start! Often, civic issues, such as poor water service delivery or trash collection, are invisible issues or handled by institutions that are not very accountable. Citizens may assume that there is some institution improving the situation, or that there is knowledge about what is going wrong. You have two issues here: one is the assumption that once they know, then they will be able to do something, and secondly that there is information available to help them to bring about change. But the reality is that there isn’t a lot of information available, and so the public doesn’t have access to information about issues like these (and often service delivery companies like to keep it that way). Without access to information, the public can’t hold the responsible institutions accountable or put forward their wishes. They’re just not informed enough to do so. On the other hand, there may not be mechanisms in which city government or service providers actually are able to know what is going on; they may not have the capacity, or knowledge, to map the issues.

A new program we’re working on in Indonesia called Water SMS gives a good example. Municipal water providers don’t know where leaks in the system are occurring or where there are areas of poor service at any given moment in time. However citizens are able to provide that information by sending SMS messages about the problems and where they’re happening. This information can be visualized on a map, thereby visualizing the water system’s changing issues, so they can be responded to.

3. Who can participate in community planning? Where and how can citizens look for avenues of participation?
This all depends on the openness of ward and city leaders to work with and listen to citizens. In theory everyone should participate. At the moment however there don’t seem to be many clearly defined forums for participation in planning, such as the participatory budgeting policy made famous in many Brazilian cities. In India, I’ve not heard of many spaces for citizens to participate or get involved, but this culture might change. Innovative and forward-thinking institutions and leaders could encourage more and more participation and help find ways for citizens to contribute.

4. What are the aims of community mapping?
The aim behind community mapping is to create an accurate, up to date, and relevant set of information about our communities and cities. In general, city governments don’t really have accurate information upon which to make plans or design their policies. As a result decisions are often not made based upon analysis of current conditions. Community mapping is able to pull together information quickly and efficiently, because it works with citizens and local organizations to do so. Another aim is that by involving people you are helping to involve them and get them interested in making changes in their surroundings based upon their contributions and ideas. Collecting information should only be the beginning, a first step to more substantive citizen engagement in shaping neighborhoods and cities.

5. What can the impact of community mapping be in city planning?
There can be a big impact in the way that city officials think about issues and also how citizens engage with them about them. As I stated before, a better understanding of the city can be gained through the contributions of all active citizens, and this can help pinpoint where more specific projects or policies are needed. So, for instance, if you identify where concentrations of poverty are, or areas where access to water is particularly poor, the government can design a program to address the needs of that area. So community mapping can equip the city planning process with better information to respond to issues, and data that is more up to date than what is usually available.

In addition, if citizens are engaged and involved, then they can help give recommendations and articulate their needs to government. This helps planning become more efficient and effective in allocation of resources, and people will be much more content with the services they receive in return, because they’ll have been consulted on it.

6. Should community-mapping initiatives get started by city administrators, NGOs, or interested citizens themselves?
I think that such initiatives can get started anywhere and by anybody, but it’s often best by citizens themselves. Community mapping can really be about any issue, for example the problem of uncollected trash in a single street or ward, or instances of violent crime in a city. You can map these things alone, or with an interest group, or with a whole neighborhood working together. Once you have people seeking to better understand an issue and bring about change, then mapping it is one step to make that change. But then you also have to work with government to show your findings and propose possible solutions. The mapping can really be started by anyone, it is one important step to addressing issues of citizen concern.

7. What is the Indonesian model of community planning, and would it work for a city like Chennai that is chaotic and geographically diverse?
You shouldn’t overestimate Indonesian cities, they are just as chaotic and diverse as cities like Chennai! (He laughs) There isn’t really any one model of community planning, there are probably many. The one that we have developed in the city of Solo, Central Java, is one which is based on the RT (a small administrative unit) or sub-neighborhood-level.

We started the community mapping project in Indonesia by surveying one small neighborhood. We got residents to come together to identify the important infrastructure and assets (water tanks, wells, schools, health centers, etc.) and also gathered information about how many people lived on each street (or in our case RT). This helped create different map layers showing population density (which is a proxy for demand) and the existence of different services (which is a proxy for supply). By discussing the mismatch between these two things in one neighborhood, you start a participatory planning discussion about what residents need, they then can put forward these needs to their elected representatives. When we showed the Mayor and other people what we found, they started to take notice.

We scaled this process up and collected basic demographic and socio-economic data from each RT in the city, in total over 2,700 of them, and organized the data in a database. We were able to show the spatial information in maps, indicating patterns of poverty, access to water, population density, levels of land tenure, and access to sanitation. We hope that this serves as a base of information upon which citizens can better understand how their city and neighborhood works, so they can be better informed about what to ask government for the musrenbang (the term for Solo’s annual participatory budgeting cycle). Even without the musrenbang, the information is useful for citizens to visualize how the city changes and can help them understand better what they may need from government (for example better access to services, transportation, schools, etc.).

I think that each city and populace has to develop such initiatives based upon their own specific needs, interests, and context. For example, Chennai is now building a citywide metro system. The coverage of this new system could be mapped together with other transportation alternatives, and by analyzing the information you could see who is not going to be able to access public transport. This kind of mapping could help inform discussions about how to provide better mobility options for those who need it.

Livelihoods around a Waste Transfer Station

Earlier this month as part of our work to map the waste picker settlements, Vijay, Aruna and I visited a Corporation-run garbage transfer station located in north Chennai. A garbage transfer station is a place where garbage trucks empty their loads before they are carted to one of two dump yards in the city. This is one of the eight transfer stations functioning in Chennai and also one among the few that allow waste pickers inside its premises. On our visit we were quite surprised to learn that unlike other transfer stations, a vast area around this particular transfer station has a large section of people dependent on waste picking and waste reprocessing for their livelihoods. The entire stretch of the road that leads to the transfer station is dotted with several waste paper marts and a few household establishments that make use of discarded materials to stitch cushions, mattresses, and pillows. There is a hutment located just opposite to the transfer station where one could see several women and sometimes even children segregating recyclables (mostly metals) from the waste accumulated at the station.

Women collecting wastes at the transfer station

The area next to the transfer station and opposite the hutment was once an open dump yard. The dump yard was a source of livelihood for several waste pickers in that area and also for those coming from other parts of the city. Subsequent to the opening of the transfer station a decade ago, the dump yard was closed and an herbal garden (now covered with thick, wild vegetation) was planted. With the closure of the dump yard, the incomes and livelihoods of the waste pickers, and the small recycling industry that had developed around it were also affected. Waste pickers from other parts of the city stopped coming here and those that were from the nearby settlements were faced with the hard choice of looking for other occupations or to go out further to areas like Kodungaiyur dump yard to find waste.

But the people here decided otherwise. Unlike elsewhere, the waste pickers here protested the closure of the dump yard and they tried to barge inside the station premises. According to an official from the transfer station, there was even a scuffle between the locals and the officials. To defuse the situation, the local Corporation officials then allowed the locals to pick wastes inside the transfer station, though the officials are careful to mention that this is not done ‘officially’. Thus, the access to waste is a hard won fight for the waste pickers here who were often at the receiving end of the ire of authorities who disregarded the fact that the dump yard is a source of livelihood for many.

So as to know more about the waste pickers and their work we went inside the transfer station, which was guarded by the Corporation timekeeper. A timekeeper is appointed to keep track of the trucks entering the transfer station and the amount of waste being loaded and unloaded in the station. He was very cordial and also allowed us to interact with the waste pickers inside. The timekeeper also said that they do not monitor the activities of the waste pickers there and they work there at their own risk. He emphasised that as per the rules trespassing is prohibited, but the locals are permitted inside only to avoid any hostility with them. He also said that there had been a plan to rehabilitate them in the plastic shredding unit started in the premises. They even went ahead with the plan and enumerated the waste pickers and also got their consent to the plan. But eventually the shredding machine stopped working and so did the plan. We then spoke to some of the waste pickers who said that they still work there because they had no other option, and they had been engaged in waste picking since their childhood. With little education and no skill set beyond waste picking,they felt that it would be very hard for them to get into other occupations.They also liked the flexibility their work gave them: they said that they pick wastes from 7.00 am to 6.00 pm (with flexible break times) in the evening and sell their collection in the scrap shops nearby, and they felt such flexibility would not be there if they went out for work.Waste pickers also said that they make a daily income of about Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 depending on the quality of the recyclables they collect. Though their daily income out of waste collection seems to be high, the risks they undergo and the occupational hazards they are prone to, overshadows that advantage.

Woman segregating waste

According to people outside of the station that we interacted with, there are approximately 80 households around the transfer station that predominantly depend on waste picking and waste recycling for a living. Out of this only 30 people (26 women and 4 men) pick waste inside the transfer station. Some of the others go to places like Integral Coach Factory (ICF) colony, Kodungaiyur and Parrys to pick waste, and the remaining buy bulk wastes from places like Pudupet and engage in segregation and sale of recyclables (metal parts) as a household activity. The high number of waste paper marts near the transfer station is also an indicator of the once thriving waste related business activities in the area. Interaction with one such scrap shop owner revealed that a decade ago, there were about 500 people who come from other areas of the city to collect waste there, but the number has reduced drastically owing to the closure of the dump yard.

The trip to the waste transfer station and the interactions we had with the waste pickers helped us see and understand how informal waste picking and recycling sustain the livelihoods of a large number of people (not just the waste pickers but also the significant number of others involved in waste processing and recycling). The waste pickers’ consent to take up alternative works in the proposed plastic shredding unit highlighted the willingness of the people to take up other occupation provided it gave them a sustained income. The government action of closing the dump yard with scant regard for the people (waste pickers and many others) dependent on thisworkfor their living and their subsequent protest which forced the corporation authorities to open the transfer station for picking wastes calls for some introspection: perhaps it is time for a change in the government’s attitude and policies towards the informal waste pickers? An all-inclusive policy of solid waste management that accommodates the needs of the informal waste pickers is the need of the hour.

Written by Pradeepan Ravi, researcher, Transparent Chennai

5 propositions for fixing India’s roads

5 propositions for fixing India’s roads

Despite a surge in the number of automobiles plying on city roads causing increasing congestion, transport planning in cities has been neither comprehensive nor visionary.  Rather than building integrated public transport systems, governments in India have resorted to temporary solutions, such as building flyovers and widening roads.  What we need are policies that integrate land use and transportation, maintain existing road infrastructure, and build and encourage the use of public and non-motorised transport. The following are five urgent policy propositions for fixing India’s roads.

  1. Decentralise transport planning to the city level.

Traffic congestion is a subject best handled by cities, but transport is a state subject in the Indian Constitution. As a result, decisions, policies, and initiatives pertaining to transport fall under the jurisdiction of state governments rather than cities. Unfortunately, state transport policies are generalised and are not attuned to local issues. This is problematic because transport policy and planning play a big role in the way cities shape and grow. Road transport, particularly public transportation, caters to a large user base and is often a city’s lifeline. But the increasing choice of vehicle options and the resulting congestion on roads has complicated the transport matrix. Considering the growing complexity, it is necessary to decentralise the decision making from the state to a local transport authority.

  1. Connect land use and transport planning.

The proposal for a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) in Chennai, first proposed in 2008, is still a draft bill. Unfortunately, the bill does not unify landuse and transportation, both of which are clearly closely interlinked. Indeed, these two components of the city are monitored by different agencies in all cities in the country, with the exception of Bangalore. This lack of coordination between the transport and development authorities has led to an unplanned sprawl in most cities, made worse by land speculation and encroachment. While the UMTA will help in holistically planning across existing road departments and newer transport investments like metros, monorails, and bus rapid transit systems, the UMTA must also reach out to the metropolitan development authority to bridge the gap between land development and transport.

  1. Make larger vehicles pay more in taxes.

In the past, a part of your property tax was used to build and maintain the roads in urban areas. Since 2000, road maintenance is funded by the Central Road Fund, which receives contributions from the central government’s sales taxes and excise duties, and state governments’ road taxes.

However, people have been flouting these taxes by buying vehicles in states with lower road taxes but using them in states with higher rates. To avoid this, the central government has proposed a uniform tax rate across the country. The centre is proposing that state governments to standardise the road tax at a floor rate of 6% of the showroom price of a vehicle before the value added tax.[1]

However, such a measure will have some strange implications. Since we currently have a progressive road tax bracket (where luxury vehicles are taxed at a higher rate) this proposition would mean a big relief for buyers of expensive vehicles. It will also mean that two-wheelers, which currently pay only 4% or lesser of their value as road tax will have to pay more to fill in for the revenue lost in selling luxurious vehicles. Since luxury vehicles tend to be the largest on the road, a uniform road tax would also mean that the government is implicitly encouraging the use of bigger cars over smaller and more fuel efficient ones, a foolhardy strategy!

  1. Create strict parking policies – and enforce these rules!

Considering the larger goals of the National Urban Transport policy (NUTP), the design of the roads and transport systems should be in the interest of the larger public and inclined towards reducing use of private vehicles. One outcome of the increased use of private vehicles are parking problems, as people tend to park on the sides of the road without facing any penalties. This adds pressure to the existing road, which often already functions at less than its carrying capacity due to encroachments and inappropriate street design. Most Development Control Regulations[2] (DCR), the rules that guide land development in most cities, have regulations for how many parking spaces are required for each residence, but roads have not accounted for visitors. Cities need to develop public parking plans, with limited numbers of legal parking spots. Enforcement of such a policy will encourage people to use public transport.

  1. Create incentives for the use of non motorised transport.

The count of walking trips averages around 32%in Chennai.[3] Inspite of this, the state of pedestrian infrastructure in Chennai is extremely poor and inadequate. Chennai has a little over one-tenth of its land use under roads, of which less than 2% have walk-able footpaths.[4] Contrary to the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) which asks cities to prioritize non-motorised transport, cities are not doing so. Calcutta has banned bicycles on many of its main roads and Chennai has banned the cycle rickshaw. But some states are doing better: the state of Punjab is promoting the use of cycle rickshaws in 22 towns, and there is even a public private partnership to make cycle rickshaws a widely used mode of transit.[5] This initiative is more in line with the NUTP policy, but not many states have extended their creativity to initiate inclusive and sustainable modes of transport systems.

Take the example of cycles. India has 90 bicycles for every 1,000 people compared to 149 in China. Yet, rather than improve cycle penetration in the country, the 2% excise duty that was levied in last year’s central government budget made cycles more expensive.[6] The government has made it easier to purchase a motorised vehicle through tax and loan schemes where people need only make a down payment of Rs.2,000. But to purchase a cycle, there are no such initiatives and the complete payment has to be made up front. Moreover, the lack of adequate and well-designed infrastructure places cyclists at a high risk in current traffic conditions, and further discourages the use of this mode of transportation. To truly encourage use of non-motorised transport the cities need to build a network of cycle tracks and usable pavements to make the city more inclusive.

These five propositions, if implemented, will move Indian cities a long way towards being more inclusive, more sustainable, less congested, and safer.

Written by Roshan Toshniwal, researcher, Transparent Chennai

[2]DCR are regulations which all buildings need to abide by to get approval for construction.
[4]Based on data collected by Transparent Chennai from the Corporation of Chennai in March 2011.

It’s just a click away

Did you know that you can complain about your civic issues online to the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa? The government has launched a website ( where citizens can file grievances and receive acknowledgment by email immediately[1]. These petitions are then forwarded to the concerned department for further action.  Citizens can also track their grievances using their petition number.

My experience with the online cell has been good. Despite repeated complaints by residents in my locality over many months, no action had been taken to repair the non-functioning street lights in my neighborhood. The departmental store at the end of the street was the only source of light at night. Recently, I heard about the CM online cell and decided to file a petition. The process was quite straightforward and clear. Two days after I filed my petition, I had two officials come home to enquire about my complaint. I pointed them to the non-functioning street lights, and they were fixed within 24 hours.

Encouraged by the prompt action taken, a month later, I filed another complaint about the non-scheduled power cut in my neighborhood. After a week, the issue was sorted, but I wasn’t sure if this was as a result of my petition, so I tracked my grievance online. The status of my petition read that the problem was because the transformer was under-powered and that to address it, the voltage had been increased. I was quite thrilled because immediate action had been taken against complaints made, and because trouble had been taken to provide an explanation as to why the problem had occurred in the first place. This seemed to me as quite a transparent process from start to finish.

I’m not sure how many people in Tamil Nadu are aware of this e-grievance redressal system. This seems promising because one can complain about the frequent civic issues cropping up in slums; such as drainage leaks, poor sanitation facilities, etc. One hopes that they will be addressed, because otherwise, conventional methods such as appealing to the councilor and various engineers may not yield fast results for slum dwellers. Moreover, the degree of success of such systems depends on if and how the poor are benefitted. Nevertheless this is a promising start.

Written by Aishwarya Balasubramanian, researcher, Transparent Chennai

[1]Petitions can otherwise be filed directly at the CM Cell in the Secretariat.

A first-hand look at in situ development in Pune

In comparison to other major cities in the country, Pune has been fairly progressive in its approaches to slum development. The in situ slum redevelopment project at Yerwada in particular, has been among the noteworthy instances of participatory planning efforts under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the JnNURM in the country. It has long been my favourite example to quote while discussing the possibilities of in situ development in Chennai. So imagine my excitement when I got to visit Yerwada! I happened to meet Mr. Sharad Mahajan of the Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL) at a conference in Pune, and he offered to arrange a field visit for me[1].

Interactions with MASHAL field officers and residents gave me many insights into the project. While some aspects of the project matched my expectations, others surprised me. Here are some of my initial learnings:

Background and project details

All the slums that are part of the project are officially recognized slums. Beneficiary households span six administrative wards. The municipal councilors from these wards (called corporators) came together to implement this project. The project only involved redevelopment of housing, and not the provision of any social infrastructure or basic facilities. Beneficiaries did not receive a patta for their homes. The provision of tenure security was also not included in the scheme. However, field officers revealed that the councilors are now making attempts to give patta to the residents.

Details of housing intervention

According to the field officers, about 70% of the houses in these areas were pucca (or made of permanent materials) at the outset. The project set out to help the remaining households, which were semi-pucca or kachcha (made of impermanent materials). A community meeting was held to inform people about the project, and to invite them to participate. The corporators also announced the scheme. The expenditure was Rs. 3,00,000 per house for a minimum house size of 270 square feet unit, of which 10% came from the beneficiary.  Residents had the option to have bigger homes, but they had to pay extra.

Interestingly, smaller houses were not given extra land to ensure a minimum house size of 270 square feet: they simply built upwards in the land he/she occupied prior to the intervention! For instance, if a beneficiary occupied 150 square feet of land, he would receive a three-storeyed house measuring 270 square feet. However, those occupying less than 100 square feet of land were not eligible for the scheme.

Partly as a result of this policy, no two houses in the intervention are the same. Architects worked with the residents of each house to design the house as per their needs. However, the design mandatorily included a toilet. The structures also had to be constructed with Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC).

The project tried to employ contractors and construction workers living on the site. People could also bring in contractors of their choice from elsewhere. According to the field officers, there were some disagreements between the architects on the MASHAL team, and the people. The councilor functioned as a moderator in case of dispute. Residents I spoke to seemed happy about their new concrete homes which do not leak or flood. Some of them also have a toilet in their homes for the first time due to this intervention.

Beneficiary contribution

The scheme was voluntary. Some households, though eligible, did not participate in the scheme because they could not afford beneficiary contribution, or the rents they needed to pay while their house was being built. No assistance was offered to the people to be able to pay these rents. Some of the beneficiaries have also been unable to pay their contribution towards the house (this was required to be done in three installments of Rs. 10,000 each, upon the start of construction, construction of plinth and construction of roof respectively).  No penalty or interest is levied for defaulters.


By being implemented in already recognized slums, this project may have only benefited those who have already been eligible to receive benefits from the government. Yerwada also seems like it was already a fairly well-developed slum with largely pucca houses at the start, and sewage, water and electricity connectivity. Thus, the scheme has not assisted the more vulnerable populations residing in poor living conditions in informal settlements. Despite the JnNURM’s insistence on the provision of tenure security, pattas were not given to people as part of this scheme, much like other BSUP housing projects in other cities. People do not possess any ownership documents, except for property tax bills and photo passes. The scheme also did not provide social infrastructure.

However, the project has been commendably participatory and flexible enough to accommodate the needs of each beneficiary in his/her house, and has even involved the residents of the site in the construction. The contribution of the government per house (Rs. 2.7 lakh) is over twice that of the contribution in the BSUP housing intervention undertaken by the Chennai Corporation (Rs. 1.3 lakh). The construction of 270 square feet has been guaranteed at this cost in the Yerwada project, while in Chennai, beneficiaries receive only financial assistance, and no guidance on design or construction of the structure. Our field work in Chennai has indicated that some households do not complete construction of houses because midway they find that they cannot afford the construction anymore. Some Yerwada beneficiaries also reported gaining access to a household toilet through the intervention.

It was very exciting to be able to visit a project I had only read about, and critically examine its merits and demerits. We will certainly study the Yerwada project further, as TC continues to push for in situ development of Chennai slums.

Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai

[1]MASHAL, an NGO, has worked for the development of 2,020 kachcha and semi-pucca houses in this project. Other NGOs are involved as well.

T(h)rashing it out

The solid waste management team at TC is working to finalise a proposal based on our research and sample survey for sustainable and inclusive solid waste management (SWM) in Ward 173. What we are proposing is a decentralised system of municipal solid waste premised on the concept of zero-waste. The key requirements for this are source segregation, door-to-door collection, separate transportation of different streams of waste, establishment of resource recovery parks for secondary segregation and organic waste processing units, and a monitoring system that is run by citizens.

Over this past weekend (February 8-9, 2014), we held four community meetings at various places in the ward to explain the important aspects of the proposal to the residents and seek their inputs. The first meeting was held at Govindasamy Nagar, the site of our pilot and subsequently the final sample survey. Residents in the neighbourhood who had participated in our survey had been given dustbins to segregate waste, and we were horrified to learn that the conservancy workers who had helped in the collection in this area during the nine day survey, had stolen the dustbins given to the residents here, claiming that they were needed to be given to another area where a similar survey was being conducted!

Graph 1: Researchers Aruna and Harsha explain the proposal to residents of Govindasamy Nagar

A common grievance was the inefficiency of the existing collection system and the residents were curious how our proposal would bring a change. They wanted to know about the regularity of waste collection that we were proposing and were happy to know door–to-door collection was being proposed for all residential areas, including theirs. Residents insisted that the key component of source segregation would not be a problem. Some continue to segregate even today, several months after the survey! Their other concern was of how the Corporation could be held accountable for efficient waste collection. The proposal was met with a lot of positivity and the residents assured us of their cooperation.

The second meeting, held at the Corporation playground on Broadies Castle Road, received a lukewarm response with about 12 people attending from different localities including Greenways Lane, KVB Garden, and Krishnapuri. Residents were frustrated with the poor garbage collection and performance of the existing private company, Ramky, in charge of SWM in the ward. Two important points that were brought up in this meeting were; First, that while suggesting bio-gas plants for processing wet waste, the usage of the gas must be ensured since non-usage of gas is often the reason behind breakdown of this technology. Second, that in situ waste management should be made compulsory for bulk waste producers with strong penalties for non-compliance.

Graph 2: Community meeting at the Corporation playground in progress

The third meeting was held at MRC Nagar, and was attended by residents from MRC Nagar and Karpagam Avenue. They expressed concerns about possible non-compliance by bulk waste producers (BWPs) in setting up in situ waste processing facilities and cited instances in the past where the residents have had to rally to stop BWPs from disposing garbage on a large scale and inconveniencing the residents. The residents were in favour of institutionalising processes and monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance. However, the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ sentiment was very prevalent amongst the residents here, and is something that the proposed awareness campaign will have to take cognizance of to ensure success of the proposed system.

The last meeting at Keshavaperumalpuram was attended by 18 people. They suggested that to ensure compliance in segregation fines should be imposed on households that did not segregate, and that training should be provided to domestic workers since they deal with the waste disposal in most households in the area. Residents were completely in favour of a citizen-driven accountability and monitoring mechanism. Their main concern was how garden waste would be dealt with since the area generated dry leaves, etc. in large volumes.

The common threads through these meetings were a dissatisfaction and frustration with current solid waste management systems – poor service delivery and poor cleanliness on streets; and an eagerness to do something to rectify the situation. Everyone was in broad agreement with the contents of the proposal. Notably, nobody objected to charges being levied for apartment units of more than 50 units that did not process organic waste on their premises. People from all the localities wanted us to help them make their locality a model neighbourhood that would spur the Corporation to action across the ward, and perhaps, the city.

In total, we were able to speak directly with about 60 to 65 people over four meetings held on the two days, while flyers with details of the proposal were distributed to over a thousand people. We will continue our outreach efforts in other areas of the ward as well as take the proposal to as many people as possible before we submit a final version to the Corporation. Please do take the time to give us your comments here.

Written by Avni Rastogi, researcher, Transparent Chennai

Paving the way

We had a successful community design workshop in Nanganallur in July 2013, where nearly 50 residents of the community participated in the hands-on exercise to design an ideal street in their neighbourhood. Following the workshop, we assimilated the ideas the community had given us and using that information, I started the process of final designs for the surveyed roads. Besides using the feedback and suggestions given to me by the community, I also incorporated the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) standards for footpaths into the final designs. First, the base plan was put together from information collected during the surveys. This information included all the basic physical entities of the roads like the lengths, widths of footpaths, property entrances, parking areas, compound wall heights of the abutting building etc. The design has been represented through plans as well as cross-sections to create a better understanding. Plans give an overview of where the proposed parking slots are and the cross-section shows the pedestrian zones which are explained below.

While approaching the design of these footpaths, I kept in mind that, generally, good pavements are divided into three zones, as shown in Graph 1. The adjoining land-use of the roads dictated the widths of the three zones.

  • Frontage zone: This is the area abutting the property line and is mostly provided for commercial areas where commercial activities spill over. The width of the frontage zone varies based on the density and character of the commercial activity, and can be avoided in a completely residential zone.
  • Pedestrian zone: This is where pedestrians enjoy an obstruction-free and unhindered walk. The minimum width of the pedestrian zone is 1.2m in a completely residential zone and can be up to 3m in a high commercial zone.
  • Furniture zone: This zone is adjacent to the road and forms a buffer between the pedestrian zone and vehicular traffic. It accommodates all the utilities like lamp posts, telephone boxes, trees, street furniture, electric poles etc. and also vendors. The widths vary from 0.5 to 1.5m.

Figure 1: Sketch showing the cross section of 6th main road, Nanganallur

Some important aspects that had to be kept in mind during the design process included:

  • In residential areas, the property entrances are provided with access ramps that slope from the pedestrian zone to the road lane. This prevents frequent breaks in the walkway, giving users an uninterrupted walkway.

Figure 2: Cross-section of Station road showing a completely residential area with a ramp at the property entrance

  • Nanganallur has many schools and hence pedestrian traffic is more outside the schools. In response to this, the footpaths adjacent to school campuses are designed to be wide. They have bollards that act as barriers and prevents children from stepping into the roads.
  • Vendors are accommodated within the furniture zone and are allocated space according to the areas identified from the survey. The design allows for vending space without disturbing the movement of pedestrians.
  • Two-way traffic lanes are separated by a median. This acts as a buffer between opposing traffic, provides refuge to pedestrians crossing the road and also allows for rain water to percolate into the water table below.
  • The lane width measures about 3.5m minimum from the edge of the median.
  • The lamp posts are placed along the furniture zone at regular intervals. Two-way posts are recommended to light both the footpath and the road.
  • Stretches of road that do not have shade will get shade-providing trees planted at regular intervals.
  • Parallel parking is provided at places along the length of the road. This space is carved out of the furniture zone so that the parking poses no hindrance to the flow of pedestrians or traffic. Metered parking will ensure that cars use this parking for short durations.

Figure 3: Plan showing the proposed parking area, furniture zone, property line and the ramp to the property

  • Water drains are provided along the furniture zone. We recommend that the Corporation builds storm water drains and service ducts directly below the furniture zone to avoid disruption at the time of maintenance.

In the coming weeks we will submit an implementation plan to Corporation officials and work with them to create better pedestrian infrastructure for the residents of Nanganallur.

Written by Lalitha Selvarajan, researcher, Transparent Chennai
Sketches by Lalitha Selvarajan

Piloting the Sample Survey: Process and Lessons

In a previous post, Avni had detailed the sample survey on waste Transparent Chennai conducted in Ward 173. We piloted the survey to eliminate any redundancies and ensure integrity of the survey. After the mapping exercise we divided the ward into blocks of 250-300 households. The survey was conducted in fifteen blocks while the pilot was conducted in one of the fifteen blocks across 50 households and 4 shops that were shortlisted through systematised random sampling. The chosen block covered part of a low-income locality, Govindasamy Nagar, and part of a high income one, Krishnapuri.

Researchers and volunteers approached the households over two days to request participation in the pilot. The participation of the residents involved segregation of garbage generated in their household into organic, inorganic and sanitary waste before handing it to the team engaged to collect them. The sampling method allowed for a 20 percent rate of refusal, which meant that we could afford no more than one-fifth of the houses we approached refuse to participate in the pilot. Prior interaction in the ward showed us that residents in low-income areas were more willing to cooperate in such efforts. As a result, there was a degree of anxiety about the response we would receive from the residents of Krishnapuri.

With this in mind, the team decided to engage residents and discuss the pilot with them as a precursor to the recruitment process. We met with office bearers of the Resident Welfare Association in Krishnapuri and informed them about the nature and purpose of the pilot. They were very receptive and promised to solicit the cooperation of residents.

In Govindasamy Nagar, the outreach team had previously met with Maheshwari as part of workshops held in the ward. Maheshwari is a popular member of the community, actively involved in various causes and known to speak for the welfare of the residents. She played a vital role in spreading the word about the impending survey and in the recruitment process. A challenge faced in this regard was to explain the process of random sampling to volunteers from the community. The general tendency of the volunteers to veer from the process to select households they felt would adhere to segregation or were appropriate candidates or their friends, had to be kept in check.

The process we followed for recruitment was simple. Once we reached a selected household, we briefed them on the work done so far and the purpose of the pilot. We obtained their consent for participation and provided documents that would help them better understand the process. We also provided them with four bins – two for inorganic waste, one for organic waste and one for sanitary waste and the requisite number of garbage bags. Since segregation was paramount to obtain the necessary data, its importance was stressed repeatedly. Lastly, we administered a short survey to gather details about the number of residents in each household, number of rooms, current method of waste disposal and questions to determine their socio-economic category. The dustbins were handed out two days prior to the first day of collection and participants were asked to ensure that only one day’s waste was deposited by the residents during the time of collection on each of the three days.

In the recruitment stage, our fears proved to be well-founded. We faced more resistance in high-income areas than in the low-income one. We were close to crossing our upper limit of allowable rejections in Krishnapuri, resulting in some tense moments. We had one household that returned the bins and refused to participate on the first day of collection, and one that only gave us garden waste for three days. But most of the others were very cooperative and appreciative of our efforts. In Govindasamy Nagar, the situation was polar opposite of that in Krishnapuri: there was interest in the survey from all quarters, and residents wanted to understand the method of selection of households and why they were not part of the survey. We collected the contact details of those who were interested but were not part of the survey, in order to approach them during further engagements in the ward.

We began the collection stage of the pilot on October 27th. For three days we collected waste from the doorsteps of the residents between 7 A.M. and 9 A.M. with the assistance of conservancy workers. The bags were labelled with a code assigned to each household and with the category of waste, and then transported to the area designated by the Corporation of Chennai for analysis. We weighed each bag individually and recorded the results. The sanitary and organic waste was disposed into the Corporation dustbins and the inorganic waste was further segregated. With the help of two informal waste workers, the recyclable materials were extricated from the inorganic waste, and the weight of recyclables and the residuals from each household was recorded. The residuals were deposited in Corporation dustbins while the recyclables were given to the waste workers.

In Govindasamy Nagar, the issues encountered during the survey included locating households, too little space for the dustbins provided and more than one household making use of the bins provided contrary to instructions. A sample household and sample shop were found to be locked through the period of the survey, so no waste was obtained from them. In Krishnapuri, the households that agreed to participate, segregated waste more effectively.

Compliance with segregation was found to increase with each day of the survey as instructions for segregation were reiterated to each household. Sanitary waste was obtained only from a few households over the course of the survey. Possible reasons could be the stigma attached to the nature of waste that included condoms and sanitary napkins. Feedback from the residents and volunteers prompted the redesigning of survey instruments to be more visually appealing. The number of dustbins provided to the slums was reduced to three owing to the lack of space in the households. The pilot gave us an idea of the scale of the logistics that would be required to carry out the larger sample survey. The lessons from the pilot certainly aided in better planning and efficient organising of the sample survey.

The Corporation of Chennai, especially the officials and staff at the ward office, were very supportive throughout the process, providing us with space for conducting the analysis, electric connections for the weighing machines, and space for storing the rented weighing machines overnight. Their assistance continued during the final nine day survey and was invaluable to its successful completion.

Written by Aruna Natarajan, researcher, Transparent Chennai.

5 things I learnt at the Corporation of Chennai

1. AE2 is not an algebraic formula

If you visit the Corporation of Chennai, you are bound to hear mentions of and references to ‘AE2’. You will hear officials talk about how the AE2 can accomplish any administrative task: calculations of the exact water and cement ratio required for construction work, generation of charts to monitor the progress of work, checks on the quality of reinforced cement concrete, and also the finalisation of tenders and issue of work orders. I used to wonder what mathematical formula could crunch figures for such a broad range of administrative tasks and how the city would function without the magical AE2!

It was only when I was more familiar with the workings of the Corporation of Chennai did I learn the truth. The AE2 is not an algebraic formula but a public servant! AE2 is Corporation slang for Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE), an engineer who is responsible for a variety of tasks that include conducting surveys of the site, preparing budgets for the construction of new assets, getting these budgets sanctioned, giving out contracts, monitoring the work of contractors and paying their bills.

2. Putting in on paper

Increasingly, local governments are being pushed to migrate from papers and files to “e-governance” systems, or software solutions that simplify and streamline work flows so that government officials can allocate their time wisely and be more efficient at work. In fact, funding from schemes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) are contingent on local governments implementing certain e-governance reforms that include basic citizen services, revenue earning services, efficiency improvement services etc. Unfortunately, not all government officials at the Corporation of Chennai are familiar with computers and the internet; many prefer to print out citizens’ complaints from various different e-governance software solutions and deal with these on paper.

In this context, what is most useful for officials are not ready made software solutions that skirt around their real problems, but just plain old stationary in new innovative avatars. For instance, the Corporation of Chennai uses files that have two flaps – a red flap and a green flap. These flaps are positioned, depending on the urgency of the contents in the file. Files with documents that require urgent attention have the red flap on top; and those that do not require immediate attention have the green flap on top. These files travel the corridors of Ripon building, and are a visually powerful means for officials to identify pressing issues and address them.

Pictures of the file with the ‘urgent’ and ‘not-urgent’ flaps.

3. The extent of informal knowledge and its use

Data at the Corporation of Chennai is of poor quality, has significant gaps and is not in formats that can be easily used and accessed, an issue we have discussed earlier. The processes employed to collect data and maintain databases are often dubious and the data is rarely verified for accuracy. It is no wonder then that officials do not rely on this unreliable data for planning new projects for the city. Instead they depend on their exhaustive informally-held knowledge of the city – knowledge that has been acquired from years of experience of being a street-level bureaucrat in Chennai.

Most officials insist that they “know” their work and the city’s landscape, and take decisions about new projects based on this informal knowledge. For instance, one official in the Bridges department said that bridges were repaired when the officials felt some “uncomfort level”. Another official in the Storm Water Drains department said of contractors that had been blacklisted for irresponsible work: “We have an idea about blacklisted contractors, but it is not a physical list. We all know which contractors are blacklisted and which are not”. A senior official succinctly summarized this reliance on informal knowledge: “all the documentation is in the junior engineer’s head”.

4. The role/rule of consultants

Possibly because data is so scanty and cannot be used for planning, or the inadequacy of human resources, the Corporation of Chennai relies heavily on consultants to prepare their project proposals and reports.

However, relying solely on the reports of consultants has attendant problems. For instance, consultants working with different departments and projects do not always coordinate with each other to ensure that the plans they draft and the solutions they propose are in harmony. Also, many officials agree that consultants often come with ready-made solutions, but little understanding of the problem. But what is most disturbing is the general acceptance that what a consultant says is gospel truth. Many government officials do not remember why they are constructing an asset or what purpose it will serve. All they know is that a consultant said it was required.

5. Coordination between departments

Coordination is a difficult task in general, but especially for such a large and complex organisation like the CoC. Each department performs a very specialized task and is required to coordinate with several other government departments to get work done. In fact, the task is so daunting that many officials and departments prefer to ignore it.

For instance, it is the responsibility of the Solid Waste Management department to construct roads at its dumpsites to ensure that their sites are navigable. Interestingly, the Roads department is not contacted when these roads have to be built, and the Solid Waste Management department directly palms out the task to a contactor. While many argue that constructing roads in a fragile environment dump is a very specialized task, few question why the Roads department is bypassed in the contracting out of roads! Is it really easier for departments to work directly with contractors than for them to coordinate with other departments at the Corporation?

Written by Vinaya Padmanabhan, researcher, Transparent Chennai