A BLIND man would have fallen into an uncovered drain in Jalan Ipoh last week if not for the vigilance of a biker. If the biker had not shouted out to warn the old man, whose sweep of his cane missed the drain, the latter would have been injured.
The incident occurred along the pedestrian path near SMK Perempuan Jalan Ipoh at the 31/2 Mile. The steel drain covers were stolen more than six months ago but were yet to be replaced.
Perhaps no one complained to the authorities about their disappearance or City Hall did not do a monthly stock take of its steel drain covers even though plenty had gone missing lately, such as those at SK Convent Sentul that were replaced with concrete slabs recently.
Perhaps it is also because of the low pedestrian traffic, the loss had gone unnoticed. Some civic-minded passers-by had used discarded wooden pallets and planks of various sizes to cover some of the holes and this had probably saved many unsuspecting people who used the footpath at night.
Last year, City Hall literally flushed close to half a million ringgit down the drain by using steel drain covers, if recent reports are anything to go by.
A total of 1,382 drain covers worth the amount were stolen last year. The first nine months of this year saw another 1,035 drain covers worth RM331,200 go missing. How many people fell into the exposed drains is not known -- or if any had taken legal action against the authorities for negligence and failure to maintain the safety of the pedestrian walks if there was a provision by law to do so.
According to someone in the scrap yard business, public owned grill drain covers and cast iron manholes have no resale value. They are contraband that will attract trouble with the law if there is an inspection by the authorities.
But there are some small-time dealers who turn fencers by buying such items from drug addicts and petty thieves. All the authorities need to do is to call on the many junkyards that pepper the city and find out who they are.
Of course, the solution to discourage the stealing of steel drain covers lies in concrete slabs that are too heavy to remove and have no downstream use -- yet. However, the slabs are not a concrete alternative. Unless they are reinforced with ribbed steel, they break easily -- especially under the weight of cars and bikes driven into them, or parked with their wheels on them. It will only be a matter of time before replacements are needed.
But concrete slabs are better than fibreglass grilles spotted covering the drains outside this newspaper's office in Bangsar. At least, during heavy rain and the drains overflow, the concrete slabs do not get washed away as one of the fibreglass grilles did some time ago, and which is yet to be replaced.
I wonder if there is a better solution our engineering students at the varsities can come up with or if City Hall has approached the academia for answers.
As we saunter towards a developed city's status, it will be keeping in step to come up with practical town planning solutions and think miles ahead to introduce facilities that are not only environmentally- and people-friendly but also those that need less frequent replacement or maintenance