Down With Hoardings
In the last few weeks, Chennai has acquired a new look. And it's green. No, it's not that some new green movement has kicked in, but all of us are getting to see Chennai shorn of all its hoardings thanks to a recent Supreme Court order that directed all illegal hoardings to be pulled down. "Cathedral Road is unrecognizable and it is great to see it in all its glory even if Drive-in Woodlands, which one often ducked into for a hot cup of filter coffee has shut shop after the court order," says a friend whose daily commute takes her past this road, which like Nungabakkam High Road on one side, and Anna Salai which runs through it, was plastered with hoardings.
The other day, I had to tap my driver on the shoulder to ask what the lovely park we were driving past was. Turns out, it is called Panagal Park. As someone said, "The top half was always curtained by billboards and the bottom half by the never-ending traffic." The traffic is still never-ending but easier to bear when one gets an eyeful of greenery. Chennai has many tree-lined drives and I would even go out on a limb to say it has more greenery than the original garden city Bangalore, which in recent years has earned the reputation of being a nightmare to drive in.
Many commuters are discovering "new" buildings whose facades were hitherto hidden by the billboards. But there are also some who miss the hoardings. And then there are some who find a problem for every solution. And here's one: With the (lit-up) billboards down, the lighting on the road is so poor, it is difficult to drive! Is Chennai Corporation headed by the ever-enthusiastic mayor M Subramanian listening?
Some Number Crunching
Bad lighting on the road means hoardings have been sponging off on the city's already-stretched power supply. Here are some numbers that should make you glad the Supreme Court ordered hoardings off the face of Chennai: The over 4,000 hoardings that have been dismantled have saved the city 86.4 lakh units of power per month. The hoardings which usually have six bulbs of 1000 watts are on for 12 hours and therefore consume 72 units per day. An average household in the city uses 500 units per month. So with the power saved on enticing you to buy things you probably don't need, some 20,000 more houses in the city can be lit up.
But the other side of the story is that the power saved from illegal hoardings is a drop in the Bay of Bengal for a metropolis that uses 37.213 million units a day, says a Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) official. When you translate that into money, demolished hoardings means a loss of some Rs 5 crore to TNEB's kitty every month because while households pay Rs 3.70 per unit, the commercial rate is Rs 5.80 per unit.
But as a wise man said, you cannot put a price on everything.
No Free Lunches Anymore
While the hoardings have come down quickly, work on bringing down the metal scaffolding that propped up these invitations to eat a pizza, go on a diet, get dressed up or even dressed down are still being tackled. Chennaites may be gleeful that they've got their city back, but owners of hoardings moan that the outdoor advertising industry has met its nemesis. But city officials retort that all they are doing is regulating the industry. In other words, pay for a licence and adorn the city's skyline, provided the size of the hoarding is in keeping with the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Licensing of Hoardings and Levy and Collection of Advertisement Tax Rules of 2003.
But the corporation is not done yet. Next up could be the giant-sized signboards put up by retailers and even petty shops. According to K Ramadoss, President of North Chennai Civic Exnora, big companies make it lucrative for small shops to carry hoardings under the guise of signboards. This way the shopkeeper gets free publicity and the big company evades tax too. A win-win situation, if ever there was one. Not for long, because once the Corporation drive to bring down hoardings ends in the next ten days, officials will be looking at signboards with a jaundiced eye!
Powerless In The City
A lady who is physically challenged recounts how she had to spend the night at the place of a friend because the lift in the building stopped working suddenly after a power outage. Obviously, walking down was not an option. Hollywood movies might be built around going somewhere for dinner and staying till breakfast, but in real life it's far from romantic and in fact, a great inconvenience. With Chennai in the throes of summer, almost every middle class home has an AC and works it. The result is an overload on the system and, consequently, tripping. Sometimes one has to wait as long as 12 hours before the power comes back on.
In fact, even robbery rates go up during the summer -- one woman who had left her door opened to let some breeze in, ended up allowing a robber to deftly remove her gold chain with a stick while she slept through it. A friend in Annanagar got up to switch off her AC last week and found a stick stealthily being pushed into her room through a window. She caught the stick and called the cops and just like in the movies, they came quickly. The robber, of course bolted. But kudos to Chennai cops, it's heartwarming to know that if you holler, they listen.