By NewsGram staff writer
R. Ramaswamy, known as Traffic Ramaswamy, is a 82-year-old former mill worker, founder member of Tamil Nadu’s Home Guard, and self-appointed traffic policeman, public interest litigator and social activist from Chennai.
“I want to see Chennai as one of the most livable and lovely cities in the country,” says 80-year-old Ramaswamy, with high hopes and an unwavering voice. This man, who started his career as a mill worker, is one of the most popular names in Chennai today.
Much of his activism relates to regulating traffic in Chennai and filing PIL in court. 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.
Spending hours and hours on city roads, he studied traffic issues, harassment of street vendors by cops and the practice of demanding bribes from motorists. Soon, he began taking pictures of erring police officers and sending them to the city police commissioner. Within no time, his list of enemies began to grow. The police started harassing him and filed false cases against him. “I was arrested and put behind bars seven times,” he says.
In 1998, he filed a PIL challenging the state government’s decision to construct a flyover on the NSC Bose road near the Chennai High Court. “Parrys is a main area in Chennai and there were a lot of street vendors here. The government officials used to earn a lot of money every month by taking bribes from each of the shops here. As the number of illegal vendors increased, the road got congested and there were traffic issues. The government rather than clearing off these shops planned to construct a fly over so that the shops could remain and they could continue getting money from them. When the construction began there were many accidents and 20 people died in road accidents. This made me file a PIL in the court and I got the plan stayed.”
In 2002, he filed a PIL against motorized three wheeler make-shift auto-rickshaws that were used for selling fish. “Bikes like Bullet were stolen and its engine was used for such auto-rickshaws. They did not come under the motor vehicles act because the government was unable to decide under which category they would come. Without regulation the number of such vehicles increased and there were a lot of accidents. I wrote to the Transport Secretary asking him to issue a tender so that manufacturers could come forward and manufacture these legally. He could not find any manufacturer. It was then that I filed a PIL pleading the court to declare these as illegal. For the fishermen it was former Union minister Chidambaram’s wife who was the lawyer. She offered me Rs. 4 lakh to withdraw my case, but I did not. The court held my view correct and declared these vehicles as illegal. The fishermen community got very angry with me because my PIL affected their jobs.“
These are just the major PILs that he filed and won. He has lost count of how many he has filed till now. “Somewhere between 400-500,” he says.