Bustle is back in Little India after changes following COI report

But the impact of Dec 8 riot is still felt in the area

Workers queueing up for buses yesterday at the Tekka Lane bus waiting area, which has been paved over.
Workers queueing up for buses yesterday at the Tekka Lane bus waiting area, which has been paved over. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

FROM paving over the Tekka Lane bus waiting area to construction works for a new queue line at Hampshire Road, things have started changing for the South Asian workers who visit Little India every Sunday.

When The Straits Times visited yesterday, there were no signs of disorder after Singapore's worst public order disturbance in more than 40 years took place seven months ago.

As it was payday weekend, the area was bustling with workers out shopping, remitting money and meeting friends. But the impact of the Dec 8 riot, sparked by a fatal accident, is still felt.

The authorities have cut down the dense foliage at the makeshift bus bay at Tekka Lane. Permanent fences have been put up around it, and the place looks more like a long-term bus interchange.

Among eight recommendations made by a Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot in their report last week, one was to improve basic infrastructure for workers who visit on weekends, and install additional lighting and surveillance.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin will deliver the Government's response to the report in Parliament today.

At the waiting area, workers queued in an orderly manner. At 6.30pm, buses came and left roughly every five minutes and nobody rushed to board.

Things have become more organised since the start of the year, said Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) chairman Wong Ann Lin, 60, who was overseeing 10 marshals and timekeepers - double the number deployed pre-riot.

"There used to be so many trees and not enough light, and when it rained, the ground would become muddy," said Mr Wong as he directed workers to colour- coded stops. "This is a vast improvement: SSTA, our drivers and our customers are happy."

The SSTA is putting on trial a Global Positioning System service to let members track each bus. They will be able to access footage of buses' closed-circuit television cameras with smartphones. LED signs to guide workers to the right queue are in the pipeline.

At Hampshire Road, where the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association (SSPHBOA) runs the other bus services, signs indicated that public bus services ended at 9pm, while signs in Tamil warned against public consumption of alcohol during weekends, a law the COI report recommended be made permanent.

SSPHBOA president Voo Soon Sang, 65, said workers are more willing to cooperate with its marshals. The number of marshals has doubled to a dozen since the riot. "The additional CCTV has helped," said Mr Voo. "It is good that the Government is more focused on safety now."

Three weeks earlier, construction hoardings were put up behind the waiting area at Hampshire Road where more permanent and sheltered facilities will be built, said Mr Voo. He noted that crowds in Little India have thinned on the Sunday after payday, a sign the Government's plan to decentralise amenities for foreign workers might be working.

But Little India can never be replaced, said Mr Rajan Kalimuthu, 37. Despite working until 5pm yesterday, he took a bus from his worksite in Tampines to meet his uncle and friends for dinner.

"Not working or working, after payday, we'll meet in Little India at 6pm, easy to arrange," said the construction worker, who has been here for over 10 years. "We makan, chit-chat and go back."


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