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Traffic Ramaswamy: Social activist K R Ramaswamy dies in Chennai | Chennai News – Times of India

Traffic Ramaswamy

CHENNAI: Social activist K R Ramaswamy, popularly known as Traffic Ramaswamy, died in Chennai on Tuesday evening. He was 86.
Ramaswamy was admitted to Chennai’s Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital a few days ago. “He suffered a massive cardiac arrest in the afternoon. He was on medications and ventilator but could not be revived,” hospital dean Dr Theranirajan said. Ramaswamy had tested negative for Covid-19, Dr Theranirajan added.
Traffic — A man who made moniker a legend
Dictionaries and thesauruses say the English word ‘traffic’ is a noun or a verb or both. In Tamil Nadu, particularly judicial and activist circles, however, Traffic is a proper noun referring to a man — Traffic K R Ramaswamy.
It was a mere hobby, more than 30 years ago, when Ramaswamy, a mill worker then, stood for hours at Broadway signal in Chennai regulating traffic. It became such a passion that he started enjoying when motorists called him ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy. As years went by, he was simply called Traffic, and he enjoyed it more.
Traffic wearing his trademark white shirt, with two pockets bulging with petitions, and khakhi pant, clutching a case bundle on one hand and two mobiles on the other, is a permanent fixture at Madras high court. In 2018, a biopic titled ‘Traffic Ramaswamy’ was made, featuring SA Chandrasekaran as protagonist. When SAC met Traffic for permission to make the biopic, Traffic put a price tag for the story – Re 200. He called it ‘seed money.’
Traffic’s activism was three-dimensional – road rules violations, encroachment of pavements and roads, and war on flex hoardings. You would never know which traffic signal he would take over or which encroachment or hoarding he would pull down. If such direct actions do not help, he would call police – from the local sub-inspector to the commissioner of police, everyone will receive the SMS or calls in a span of five minutes. If even that does not help, he would note down details and the next morning he would mention it before Madras high court. At least 200 PILs had been born in that manner, for the state’s good.
Traffic realized the power of courts when he successfully challenged city police’s decision to convert the wide NSC Bose around the high court premises, as one-way. He accused police of settling for an easier option of converting a broad stretch into a one-way instead of regulating traffic. The other case which won him a lot of goodwill as well as threats was the fish cart abolition case. Fish carts are rickety improvised goods carriers powered by motorbike engines (most of them sourced from stolen goods market). Utterly unsynced by the motor power and the vehicle weight, fish carts were notorious for their imbalance, resulting in deadly accidents.
Traffic dragged the issue to court and got them banned, because they were never recognized as vehicles in law and their victims would not get even a single paisa as compensation. His battle against share-autorickshaws was also on the same legal premise, but the battle remains inconclusive.
Perhaps Traffic Ramaswamy is the only activist who managed to tear-down posters and banners of political leaders – be it Jayalalithaa or M Karunanidhi – at their own respective dens. He had torn posters at Poes Garden house of Jayalalithaa, Peters Road headquarters of the AIADMK and the secretariat premises when she was chief minister. He tore posters around DMK headquarters Anna Arivalayam as well. Political leaders and parties were a mere name that did not deter Traffic.
He was a nightmare for encroachers – big and small – and owners of illegal buildings. His PIL on unauthorized buildings in T Nagar led to a litany of judgments on enforcement of development control rules. Though the menace is not entirely gone, giant showrooms at T Nagar shopping hub had to spend crores of rupees modifying buildings and introducing fire safety features.
In Madras high court, Traffic commanded respect matched only by a few designated senior advocates. There was no bench or no judge that would not hear what Traffic has to say. Many a time he did get a rap for either taking law into his own hands or bringing up a political issue for which he is not known. He would trudge out of court halls on such occasions, only to sprint in with a PIL on his pet topics the next day.
Hated by vendors occupying pavements, threatened by fish cart owners and physically intimidated by many lawyers, Traffic always risked his life and limbs for public cause. No wonder, then, he got an armed police security guard tailing him 24X7 for more than two decades.
Already a small built man weighing about 40kg, Traffic has been getting thinner and thinner every passing day for about two decades, because he never had a full meal during the period. Two-course or three-course meals are off his menu. “I enjoy these biscuits and tea more than unlimited full meals,” he would say, settling for snacks even during lunch. Curd, butter milk, juice, porai, biscuits and tea – they became his staple diet for ages.
Traffic had a refrain, too. “How can I alone run to every trouble spot, like a fire engine? And for how long? I want everyone coming across road violations and encroachments to take it up in their own way.”
Among Traffic’s unfinished agenda is removal of all places of worship from public spaces and pavements. He had used the Right to Information (RTI) Act route and even got an exhaustive list of religious structures, covering all religions. His long fight to raze every one of them did not materialize, as both courts and successive governments could not keep pace with the frail man, who ran in and out of courts with a urine bag strapped tightly under his white shirt.



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