For these government employees, the work is done only when their beloved city is back on its feet.

 A salute to Chennais selfless govt staff working hard to bring the city back on its feet
news Cyclone Vardah Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 18:38
Written by  Pheba Mathew

December seems determined to test the resilience of the people of Chennai. If it was the floods last year, it is Cyclone Vardah this year. And just like it has on previous occasions, Chennai is rising to meet the challenge.

The foot soldiers of the corporation and the electricity board are fighting exhaustion in their effort to put the city back on its feet. After the cyclone, Chennai's streets were full of broken trees and wires till the corporation and electricity board came to the rescue. 

The workers haven't slept properly in the last three days but are determined to help people and bring back normalcy after the natural disaster. 

Shekhar and Vijaykumar are busy fixing the streetlight in Pillayar Koil Street in Thiruvanmiyur. When asked about the working hours in the last three days, Shekhar, who works at the electricity department of the Chennai corporation says, “There are no fixed timings. We stay back till the work gets over, then we go back home for a few hours and come back to work. Today (Wednesday), I came for work around 8 am in the morning and will be going back around 7 in the evening,” he says.

Shekhar says that they were working the whole day on Monday as well. He shares his experience: “On Monday, we were mainly providing generators to the shelters where people were kept after evacuation, we also accompanied people to the shelters in Thiruvanmiyur and Besant Nagar."

His colleague, Vijaykumar, sees no reason to complain. He's convinced that it is their duty to help people of the city in times of need. “It is not only us, our seniors and colleagues, everyone in the department is working. Our junior engineer went home at 3 on Wednesday morning,” he says.

Shekhar and Vijaykumar recall the floods last year: “We had to provide generators to the shelters and fix all the streetlights in this area."

This year, they are fixing the streetlights in Thiruvanmiyur and Besant Nagar areas, many of which have been affected due to uprooted trees. 

The debris that Vardah has left behind is colossal. 

The cleaning staff of the corporation, in charge of removing the fallen leaves off the roads and pavements, have been working tirelessly. 

Indra, a 38-year-old woman who works on contract for the Chennai corporation, says, “After the cyclone, all the roads have been full of fallen leaves and trees. We have been working from 6 am. The work seems to be endless."

These staff work from 6 am to 2 pm in a day. “Even if we tell our company that we will work extra hours and clean the streets, the company will not provide us with a single rupee extra, so we finish as much work as possible in this time and go home,” says Bhubaneshwari, 35, another cleaning staff.

The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board has been having a tough time providing electricity to the whole city after the cyclone. 

“TNEB has been able to restore electricity to 30 percent of the areas in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur. But we are trying our best to restore it as soon as possible,” says a staff member at the TNEB office in Besant Nagar.

The TNEB staff have had their hands full fixing the faulty electricity lines in the city. “We do not have any particular working hours generally but after the cyclone, we only go home after we fix the faulty lines of as many areas as possible. We stay back till everything gets fixed,” says Jaykrishanan*, a staff member.

The associate engineer of the Besant Nagar branch declined to discuss the work and the status of power restoration in different parts of the city.

However, there are some complaints from the public about the situation.

“We do not have electricity for the last three days on the sixth cross street. I have complained so many times, they keep saying that they will send someone but the fault has not been corrected. We cannot even contact them on telephones,” says Ramakrishan*, a resident of Besant Nagar.

Another resident has similar issues. Loku, 37, a medical representative with a private company, says, “Our house on the beach road does not have electricity for the last two days. They came and fixed some lines in our area but our house has not got electricity. They promised that the staff will be coming today morning but no one came."

After Cyclone Vardah, Chennai is battling to find normalcy. The scale of the damage is extensive and even as people struggle to come to terms with it, there are many government employees who go about doing their job, for the sake of a city they love and call their own.

*Names changed on request

Story edited by Sowmya Rajendran