Residents in the Tamil Nadu capital have more than one reason to thank KR 'traffic' Ramasamy. Many a time he has made there lives less stressful by using the PIL route to sort out civic issues — especially traffic problems.
His PIL in 2002 put the brakes on the motorised fish carts that had no road permit and did not require its "drivers" to have a valid driving licence to go zipping through the roads at breakneck speed.
The day after the high court banned fish carts Ramasamy, a home guard by choice, was attacked by at the busiest traffic intersection in the city.
"The police just looked the other way as the assailants broke my glasses and sliced my right eye. My eye has virtually useless ever since. The fish carts used to be golden goose of bribes for the traffic police, and their disappearance meant loss of unaccounted income," recalled Ramasamy.
Now a ripe 73, Ramasamy started as a peon in a textile mill before retiring as master technical weaver. As the founder of home guards in the state in 1963, he started to help out the police in regulating traffic in the busy Parry's Corner area.
Again, it was due to his PIL that the Supreme Court cracked down on illegal construction by Chennai Silks, a leading textile store.
That, in turn, led to the CMDA issuing demolition notices to similar shops that had brazenly flouted building laws.
On another occasion, lawyers attacked him inside the high court premises after he argued his own case challenging the state's funding of the film on Periyar. "It's not the government's job to finance commercial films, even if it portrays a great personality when the money (Rs 95 lakhs) can be better spent -- to build a bridge or repair roads," argues Ramasamy.
But his 'crusades' have earned him a lot of respect and quite a fan following among Chennaiites.
The local ACP has issued him an ID card authorising him to regulate traffic and bus conductors who recognise him readily offer him free rides. When his family disowned him for his activism, a friend came forward to offer him shelter, free of cost. And other good Samaritans step in with the court fee for his PILs and even train tickets to Delhi if the matter goes to the SC.
Recently, his office was ransacked and some files burnt to deter him from pursuing his latest case --- banning autorickshaws on major bus routes --- to decongest the city. "I am used to such threats and sometimes even bribes. But nothing will deter me," he asserts.