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The legacy of Ranjit Kumar

Thursday, August 2 2012

ACCORDING to the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago, Highways Act, Chapter 48:01, Wrightson Road is designated a Main Road.

The other main roads in Port-of-Spain are listed as follows: Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Eastern Main Road, Beetham Highway, Abattoir Road, Audrey Jeffers Freeway, and Maraval Parkway. Technically, Wrightson Road is a four-lane divided urban arterial road, and connects the Beetham Highway in the east with Audrey Jeffers. Audrey Jeffers is not a freeway, which would have no at-grade access, and should be called simply a highway. But, I do not understand how Abattoir Road in Sea Lots (where the Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Branch is located) can be considered a main road.

Wrightson Road is 2.5 km long from St Vincent Street in the east to O’Connor Street in the west. In order to maximise its function more effectively as an arterial road, several of the local road intersections in Woodbrook were earlier closed off with concrete barriers. Many of them have been reopened over the years, thus reducing the traffic capacity of Wrightson Road. However, some collector road intersections in the downtown Port-of-Spain area have recently been prevented from accessing Wrightson Road through time-based turning restrictions.

Sir Walsh Wrightson was an Englishman who held the post of Director of Public Works of the Government from 1895 to 1907. He was responsible for the construction, in 1900, of the original Wrightson Road. He built this road from the western end of Charles Street to gain access to town’s sewerage pumping station sited at Mucurapo Point on the Maraval River. The road followed a path along the sea shore on the Woodbrook Estate. At that time its length was 1.6 km. Sometime around the period 1938-1940, the entire “sea-edge” Wrightson Road was planned, designed and re-built as a dual carriageway highway by a young Public Works engineer from India, and transformed into a route connecting the east and west communities, including the immediate local roads in Woodbrook, and the recently re-claimed lands its southern side.

Ranjit Kumar (1912-1982) was born in the Punjab State in India, and migrated as a young child to the UK. He graduated as a civil engineer from the Imperial College of Science, at age 18. He was certainly a pioneer in the field of civil engineering in TT, particularly in constructing highways in mangrove terrain, as in the 1940’s this project was deemed almost impossible. It is said that when the Americans had decided to extend Wrightson Road eastwards, he was hired as a consultant to work on the project.

The upgrade of Wrightson Road has served as an important influence in commercial and financial development, including hotels and conference facilities.

Engineer Kumar is also credited with designing irrigation and drainage systems for flood-prone areas of Port-of- Spain, Laventille and El Socorro. He worked on the Morvant Housing Project, widened the Eastern Main Road and constructed footpaths.

Other notable projects include the site works for Federation Chemicals Limited and the Hilton Hotel.

He entered politics in 1943 served in the PoS City Council and the Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1950, Ranjit Kumar Street in St James was named in his honour. There is also a village in Gasparillo, known as Kumar Village, said to be named after him. The National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) Awards in Science and Technology seek to recognise and reward nationals for outstanding achievements in science and technology, to provide positive role models for our youth to emulate, and to record our scientific heritage. A new award, known as the Ranjit Kumar Award for Junior Engineer, is for persons under the age of 35 years with exceptional abilities and achievements.

Sir Wrightson was the central figure in the notorious water riots of 1903 mainly because he drafted a waterworks bill seeking to install water meters in homes. On March 23, 1903, an event precipitated by a volatile combination of dis-enfranchised masses, water restrictions and an oppressive colonial government erupted. This event led to the Red House fire.

Over the years, several persons have called for the renaming of Wrightson Road to the Ranjit Kumar Highway.

The latest in the call is by History Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Dr Brinsley Samaroo, at a recent seminar in commemoration of the centennial birth of Ranjit Kumar, hosted by the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), in collaboration with the Kumar family. This free seminar was held at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Campus at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), PoS, and was well-attended by several Government ministers, diplomats and a wide cross-section of the national community. Engineer Kumar’s children have followed his sound professional attributes, and include Catherine Kumar – chief executive officer, The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Kenneth Kumar – civil engineer, Henry Kumar – electrical engineer.

What are we waiting for to change the name Wrightson Road to Ranjit Kumar Highway? It will be a significant contribution to our celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of TT independence, as we recognise our pioneers.

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