CHENNAI: We all heard about how MTC buses leaked when the skies opened up during the first spell of monsoon rains. Now we know why they leaked. If the version of office-bearers of prominent workers unions is anything to go by, they leaked because 1-mm-thick sheets were used for roof construction instead of the standard 3 mm. At least 230 buses with leaky roofs have been sent back to the workshop for the second time in a span of just few months.
After the issue was flagged, the MTC suspended an assistant engineer who was to supervise repair works in its workshop at Chromepet. The action took place against a junior official when the deputy store manager and the assistant store manager, in charge of procuring the substandard roof sheets, have allegedly been left untouched.
The incident came to light when 230 buses, which were serviced just before the monsoon, were again brought in after rains. On inspection, it was found that the sheets used to lay the roof was only 1-mm thick against the prescribed thickness of 3-mm, according to office-bearers of at least three prominent trade unions Express spoke to.
The MTC has suspended Karthikeyan, an officer in the rank of assistant engineer, who was in charge if supervising the repair works. A senior transport corporation official, when contacted, justified the action, saying the assistant engineer ought to have flagged the issue to his superiors when the sheets were found to be faulty.
Thalapathy V, president, Netaji Transport Workers Union, said, “When reports of poor quality sheets started surfacing, the management was forced to take action. This led to the suspension of the assistant engineer instead of the officials who purchased the sheets.” No action has been initiated against the deputy store manager and the assistant store manager, who were allegedly responsible for procuring it, he added.
According to Thalapathy, the process of laying the roof has been changed by the private contractors who carried out the work. “Ideally, two layers of 3-mm sheets would sandwich a layer of tar to prevent leakage. Now, since the thickness is low, the sheets are not even able to withstand the tar spread over it, leading to leakage,” he said. He added that the transport corporation had procured around 1,300 sheets at a total cost of Rs 40 lakh, all of lower thickness.
While more than 400 buses were reconditioned at the Chromepet work station just two months ago, 230 had been brought back after frequent complaints. When Express contacted the assistant store manager for a response to the allegations of poor quality material in use and the subsequent suspension of the assistant engineer, he said that he was not aware of the issue. The deputy store manager said that the issue would not fall under the purview of his department. While the Managing Director was unavailable for comment, the GM declined to comment.
However, on maintenance, the officials told Express that the sheets were being replaced and denied that the thickness was less. They also said that leaking and other damage are common issues and that the transport corporation would do the needful for the safe ride of the commuters.
A conductor working from the Adyar depot had a different take. He alleged that the AC buses in the depot had also been reeling under maintenance issues with only 20 of the 60 AC buses on the road since the rest were unfit for use.
In a related development due to the recent rains, more than 500 buses have not been in operation in the past three days due to the lack of drivers. The drivers, most of them coming from suburban areas, are affected by waterlogging, said Natarajan, president of the Labour Progressive Federation. He added that some are not willing to run the buses that are damaged and often broke down in the middle of the ride and road. “With the rains seemingly coming to an end, workers are slowly joining duty,” he said.
Meanwhile, commuters said that this monsoon had gifted them a unique experience of ‘shower’ inside the bus’ due to the poor quality sheets. According to Saiju Sebastian, who regularly travels in M9M from Kakkan bridge in Adambakkam to T Nagar, “If you’re lucky enough, you could even see mushrooms popping between the seats.”
We choose to go by buses to avoid getting wet. What’s the point when we get inside and get drenched? I even saw a mushroom between the seats, claimed a regular passenger