While the Chennai Metropolitan Area is poised to grow into the largest metropolis in India spanning nearly 9,000 sq km, would the growth be properly planned? If past experience is anything to go by, even optimists would keep their fingers crossed.
For starters, less than half of the total area in the current Chennai Metropolitan Area can be classified as urban/developed, and only 0.46 per cent of land is being used for recreational purposes.
The expanded areas of the city brought under Chennai Corporation four years ago, continue to languish without basic facilities, including drinking water and sewage pipelines, proper road, and more. For a city eager to leapfrog ahead of all other metropolitan cities in the country, these figures should come as a reality check.
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“How will they develop such a vast area when they could not develop 1,189 sq km to its full potential?” wonders Association of Professional Town Planners (APTP) president K M Sadanandh.
Over the decades, Chennai has emerged as a preferred investment destination, particularly for automobile manufacturing and ancillary units, electronic goods manufacturing firms, leather finished product units and in recent years, IT firms. While areas like Oragadam are turning out to be an automobile hub, there is a lot of development on Old Mahabalipuram Road stretch, with a Japanese satellite city being planned.
“A number of economic and job generating activities have been located along the Chennai-Bengaluru National Highway, Chennai-Tiruchy National Highway and along the Chennai-Mamallapuram Highway,” says a planner with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. However, these areas — part of the proposed 8,878 sq km megapolis — still lack the infrastructure backbone and transport network.
Take the case of most of the projects, including the Maraimalai Nagar satellite township project. “Beyond plans and proposals, there has hardly been any effort to actually implement the project. Such announcements are good to hear, but trouble starts later,” according to a source.
You don’t need a rocket scientist to say that meticulous planning is needed while undertaking a project of such magnitude. But is the existing team up to the task?
Critics carp at the Master Plan Department of the CMDA not coming up with a detailed development plan for any of the regions under the present metropolitan area except Villivakkam.
“Given the slow planning, it remains to be seen whether CMDA officials would be able to scale up the process to prepare the master plan for all the new areas or simply blame it on lack of manpower and other resources as has been the practice so far,” says a source.
This is a concern shared by many, since they feel that the CMDA, instead of concentrating on the bigger task of planning, is content with handing out permissions and enforcement. So several projects announced have been delayed. “If they prioritise planning, then not only Chennai, but also the entire proposed 8,878 sq km can be seamlessly developed,” says an official on condition of anonymity. Also, despite the proposed eight-fold growth, the agency cannot expect windfalls in revenue, say officials. Most of the land in Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts, besides Arakkonam Taluk — all of which are proposed to be included in the expanded CMA — are yet to be put to use, so they will not fetch revenue.
However, there still are pockets like Oragadam and Padappai that can boost the coffers through development charges and other such levies, as these hubs have developed considerably over the years.