The US based Forbes magazine, in its recent survey has listed Chennai among the densest cities of the world. The city ranks 8th in the list. Delhi follows in the 13th position and Bangalore is 19th. The magazine has commented that “Living in a dense place affects quality of living, unless you have loads of money and the place is gentrified like Tokyo and New York. Dense is, however, a relative term. A Mumbai native visiting New York is bound to feel like a New Yorker vacationing on a Wyoming dude ranch”. The magazine has blamed “fast-track economic growth” for the density of population in metros. It is significant that the list of the top ten densest metros of the world has three Indian cities – Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

Citizens of Chennai may take solace in the fact that the list of the top 25 dirtiest cities of the world does not include the metro, while it does have Mumbai (7th) and Delhi (24th). But while Chennai appears to have escaped, neighbouring Ranipet has not. It comes in for special mention and it is stated that “Ranipet’s pollution can affect up to 3 million people, as it is upstream from populous Chennai. Its tannery waste amounted to 1,500,000 tons a year of toxic material. There is contamination of ground and water. There are efforts being made at containment”.

While Forbes Magazine’s penchant for listing just about anything (10 hardest drinking cities of the world is an example) may have resulted in the “dirty” statistics going unnoticed, last year’s Worldwide Quality of Living Survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting showed Indian cities in a very poor light as well. That study state that Indian cities score relatively poorly for health and sanitation, with scores ranging from 52.8 for Chennai (position 177) to 38.2 for Mumbai (position 209). Most Indian cities are densely populated with poor waste removal and sewage systems. These issues, combined with increasing air pollution, contribute to their relatively low ratings according to the study. It highlighted the fact that there is a very real risk of transmission of diseases in these cities owing to the poor ratings.Given this scenario, the Central Government has come up with the idea of satellite townships for 35 cities in the country. All of these have populations exceeding a million and naturally Chennai is also included. The Ministry for Urban Development is finalizing a “satellite township policy”. The Ministry envisages appointing a consultant for coordinating with state governments on the proposed townships. It is understood that these initiatives will be mandatory for states, if they propose to avail funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The states will also be asked to reform their land policies including the reduction of stamp duty to 5% and the removal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act wherever it is applicable presently. The stamp duty is presently 8% in Tamil Nadu. The Urban Land Ceiling Act was repealed in the state in 1999. The Centre is also proposing redefining of city municipal limits. A National Urban Commission is being set up to focus on developments in towns and cities and to increase their limits. This move is meant to change the urban-rural equation in the cities and therefore redefine the density of population. It has been noted that while the population of India grew 2.8 times between 1951 and 2001, the urban population increased 4.6 times. The extent of Chennai city is about 157 and the Chennai metropolitan area is 1117 Within this 157 city, the prevailing density is 247 persons per hectare while the density in the suburbs is only 59 persons per hectare. The focus is certainly on the development and densification of the suburbs.

While this emphasis on surrounding areas is welcome, it is to be hoped that the city, which is already bursting at its seams, will not be neglected. Also, a good plan for development of satellite towns would envisage their being independent entities thereby reducing the daily influx and exodus of population in the metro resulting in traffic chaos and adding to the pollution. Time alone will tell as to what the new plan will have for this city.