Sunday, August 24, 2014

Traffic Ramasamy - A chennai based true public volunteer

City’s notable social worker, public interest litigant, whistle-blower, arbitrator — all put into one is Traffic Ramaswamy is a 75-year-old former mill worker, a founder member of Tamil Nadu's Home Guard, and a self-appointed traffic policeman, public interest litigator and social activist from Chennai.


Much of his activism relates to regulating traffic in Chennai. Initially, he started unofficially directing traffic at the city's busy Parrys Corner.The local police were pleased with his efforts and provided him with an official identity card.He acquired the nickname, Traffic Ramaswamy after that.

He has brought many public interest lawsuits in the Madras High Court.In 2007, he was attacked by his opponents' lawyers on the steps of the courthouse.This was not the first time, he has been attacked: in 2002, he was assaulted by fish sellers, after he obtained a ban on the use of motorised fish carts, damaging his sight and his family have disowned him. He has also had his office ransacked and papers were stolen.However, helped by donations from friends, he claims he will continue his fight to make Chennai the most livable and lovable city.

His activism has resulted in the demolition of some illegally constructed buildings in Chennai, restrictions on motorised fish carts, de-congestion of major bus routes by banning auto rickshaws from them, and a review of lavish state funding for a feature film (arguing the money could be more properly used for development work). He is now accompanied day and night by an armed police bodyguard.

On October 2013 he filed a PIL against the Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa seeking for the removal of name Amma from the Government schemes. Jayalalithaa is called as Amma by her followers.

Talking to Asian Tribune, “Traffic” (that is how Traffic Ramaswamy is known) says he has hit more than a century with his brow-raising, controversial, yet pointed and sharp, trend-setting Public Interest Litigation petitions in Madras High Court as well as Supreme Court. For some ‘Traffic’ might be terrific; he is a ‘do-better’ for the society, in that he is a go-getter.. Heaped with bouquets and brick-bats, undaunted 76-year-old Ramaswamy goes on with his tireless social commitment. He argues his own case as ‘party in person’.

Ramaswamy has single-handedly brought many public interest law suits in the Madras High Court. In one recent case, he was attacked by his opponents’ lawyers on the steps of the courthouse. This was not the first time, in 2002, he was assaulted after he obtained a ban on the use of motorized fish carts, damaging his sight. He has also recently had his office ransacked and papers were stolen; his family has disowned him. However, helped by donations from friends, he continues his fight to make Chennai the most livable and lovable city.

‘PIL king’s first public interest litigation was in 1998 when he filed one questioning the NSC Bose road in front of the Madras High Court being kept as one way, although it was a broad road. The result, it went two way.

From then on Ramaswamy went on non stop, his almost all PILs going sure success. Even when PILs were viewed critically by the High court at a point of time, and those that were publicity-oriented and wasting courts valuable time and fined, that did not deter Traffic Ramaswamy. “I went ahead, mine were justifiable,” he says.

His PIL to cleanse the city of roadside hawkers, and make the pedestrian pathway free of congestion, found about 5000 hawkers getting covered shops at T. Nagar, Moore Market and elsewhere.

Gets police escort

His PIL to ban the fish-cart vehicle (tri-wheeler motorized rickshaws) in September 2002 earned the wrath of the fish-cart drivers and he was attacked right in front of the L & O Inspector. Ramaswamy’s PIL was to find a way to end the fish-cart connected accident that was growing in the city and many two-wheeler riders became victims. When the attack was reported to the Court, he was provided with armed police guard. Since 2002 he is with an escort police.

If T.Nagar’s Usman Road and Ranganthan street, which were bursting in seams with shopping crowds, it is because Traffic’s PILs that pulled down high raise buildings (Chennai silks, Saravana Stores, Jayachandra Textiles to name a few), removed the hawkers, regulated unauthorized constructions.

In 2007, Ramaswamy’s PIL made Motor Vehicles Act section 129 enforceable with wearing helmet made compulsory throughout the country. He brought out the dormant rule to the light that motor vehicle sellers’ package should include an helmet also. This gave way to a Government Order (G.O.) that directed RTO to register a vehicle with an helmet, like insurance papers, road tax, pollution check certificates, although ‘helmet-rule’ is followed in breach today, due to political ‘go slow, go soft’ direction.

If the city’s water bodies like Porur lake is glistening with sheet of water, again it is because of his PIL, the encroached huts and colonies were cleared, and Cooun river in front of MGR university at Maduravoyal is back to its full breadth.

In 2004 when advocates were boycotting courts in Tamil Nadu, his PIL in the Supreme Court, upheld his contention and 160 advocates were arrested. Again when the lawyers were on strike on Sri Lankan Tamils issue and on subsequent attack by police on them, with shamiana spread on full length of the road, blocking one-way traffic for more than 35 days, this ‘Traffic’ could not keep quite, he was out with his weapon—PIL. That’s all some lawyers went to ’kill’ him. There is a case against 10 lawyers, FIR filed and pending.

His PILs

Recent PIL questioned Tamil New Year change

His recent two PILs are noteworthy. His one PIL challenged the government’s move to make the first day of the Tamil month of Thai as the Tamil New year’s day on June 26, Friday. Traffic’s original petition in 2008 was dismissed with a cost of Rs. 10,000 for non-appearance of the petitioner. He went to Supreme Court and reversed the order and brought the matter back to the high court for hearing. He questioned the order of the government that it had not given any reason to alter the Tamil New Year from the existing Chithirai 1 to Thai 1. He wanted the new year day restored to the first day of Chithirai.

By another PIL he sought to restrain the authorities from collecting road toll at 15th kilometre on NH-5 Chennai-Kolkatta highway. Pointing out that the four-lane was not constructed by L&T, Ramaswamy said toilets, rooms, pedestrian underpass, service roads and bylanes too had not been completed before the toll collection was started. The toll gate near Karanodai did not have a canopy and lacked light, he said, adding that there was no uniform fee collections too. Describing it as a scandalous activity, Ramaswamy said that instead of the original 27th kilometre toll was being collected at 15th km on the highway.

Traffic Ramaswamy started his career as a mill worker He was a founder member of the state’s Home Guard, and a self-appointed traffic policeman, who slowly grew out to be a public interest litigator and social activist.

His first focus was on controlling the city’s chaotic traffic. Initially, he started unofficially directing traffic at the city’s busy Parrys Corner. The local police were so pleased with his efforts that they provided him with an official identity card. He acquired the nickname, Traffic Ramaswamy, shortly afterwards.

Ramaswamy recently unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from South Chennai constituency. His wife and daughter with grand son and grand daughter are living away from him, however he visits them frequently.

When the city’s problems and administration of social rules go unwieldy, the services of such a person are need of the hour. Chennai must be thankful to him. However, he has friends and foes together.

See more about Traffic Ramaswamy by clicking here