Grandma's Tales

March 29, 2007

The Elliot’s beach saga – 12 Response to Corporation’s plan

Filed under: Consumer caution,Games People Play,Government,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:29 pm

Besant Nagar residents and beach users voted overwhelmingly to make the beach a plastic-free zone, remove billboards near the beach in a bid to protect turtles, and to restrict any construction or landscaping to the roadside, rather than in the beach. A majority of beach users and residents also disagreed with most of the components of the beach beautification plan prepared by MEASI for the Chennai Corporation, and expressed their support for other initiatives that could make the beach experience more enjoyable. These included better traffic management, zoning for vendors, and removal of advertisement hoardings.
These and other key findings were revealed through a survey conducted in mid-March of 482 beach users and residents conducted by the Civil Society Group, a collective of Chennai residents and citizens concerned about public and common spaces in the city. The survey was conducted to assess the reaction of various interest groups – including joggers, hawkers, fisherfolk, senior citizens, residents and turtle enthusiasts — to the Chennai Corporation’s beach beautification plans, and elicit their perspectives on how to improve the Besant Nagar beach.
On March 2, Besant Nagar residents, including fisher panchayat leaders from Urur Kuppam and Olcott Kuppam, had met the Corporation Commissioner at Boys’ Club, Besant Nagar. The Commissioner presented plans prepared by MEASI to beautify the Besant Nagar beach admittedly to promote tourism.
Members of the Civil Society Group urged the Corporation to involve citizens, residents and various interest groups in developing plans such as these. The Commissioner offered to consider any alternative plan or suggestions provided by the residents. The survey was conducted in follow-up to the Commissioner’s offer. Results of the survey will form the basis of an alternative plan for beach beautification to be presented to the Commissioner by early April.
91 percent of the respondents felt the beach required improvement.
56 percent of the respondents felt that traffic management was satisfactory. Senior citizens, residents and turtle enthusiasts, however, felt traffic management could be improved. It is to be noted that residents from the beachfront houses and nearby streets are worst affected by weekend traffic along the beach.
61 percent of the respondents said they would support a move to declare the beach road a one-way road.
On the issue of whether or not vendors should be in the same place or shifted to a different place, respondents were roughly equally divided. All hawkers interviewed said vendors should remain in the same spots, while a majority of the senior citizens said they should be moved to a different place.
71 percent of the respondents were aware that the beach was a nesting area for Olive Ridley turtles.
72 percent of the respondents said the advertising hoardings (billboards) can be removed in the interest of turtles.
94 percent of the respondents, including 91 percent of the hawkers, said the beach should be declared a plastic-free zone.
72 percent of the respondents said any construction to modify or improve the beach would need to be done on the road side, rather than on the beach.
Responses to Corporation’s Plans
In brief, the Corporation’s plans involve taking over substantial portions of the beach area to set up landscaped lawns, umbrellas, a walkway running over the sand dune and leading to the sea, fountains, amphitheatre, play area, cubicles for hawkers and amenities such as toilets and parking. The beach beautification plan had no component to address the problem of litter. Neither did it address the garbage dumping and sewage discharge along the beach in Urur, Olcott, and Odai Kuppams.
A majority of the respondents to the survey were not in favour of any of the alterations on the beach as proposed by the Corporation. Curiously, beach users voted even against the green strip, preferring to maintain the beach as is. This is consistent with the finding that 72 percent of the respondents preferred construction, if any, to be made on the road-side leaving the beach area sandy.
Some proposals of the Corporation, such as for toilets, received a marginal majority. However, no break-up of the results by gender was possible. It is likely that women may have voted overwhelmingly in favour of increased toilet facilities.
62 percent of the respondents said they were not in favour of the green strip proposed by the Corporation on the beach-side of the existing walking path. Only joggers and senior citizens were in favour of the green strip. Fisherfolk, turtle enthusiasts, hawkers and residents were not in favour.
75 percent of the respondents said they were not in favour of the walkway (spine) running along the centre of the beach from the road to the waterline.
83 percent of the respondents rejected the proposal to construct fountains in the beach area.
93 percent of the respondents said the amphitheatre on the beach was not a good idea.
73 percent of the respondents said there was no need for a separate play area.
52 percent of the respondents supported the Corporation’s proposals to increase toilet facilities.
62 percent of the respondents said no cubicles needed to be provided to hawkers. However, hawkers overwhelmingly voted for provision of separate cubicles, and many joggers joined the hawkers in favour of cubicles.
That says it all. If the government – local or state – is supposed to be responsive to the opinions of the people who are stakeholders in any project, they should pay heed to this survey. I don’t think a statement like, “Our people also came here and observed how people were using the beach. Our plan is based on that” will wash.

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