Government approves Chennai Master Plan II

          but serious questions and doubts remain unanswered


The Tamil Nadu Government, on 2nd September approved the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) plan which aims by 2026 to transform the city into “a prime metropolis”. Those who had seen the earlier plan and participated in the public discussions that followed were in for a shock. The document as approved by the government appeared to vary significantly from what was proposed, debated and agreed especially with reference to


  • restrictions on building heights,
  • floor space index (FSI)
  • and the protection of natural habitats.


This has irked activists and those concerned with the city’s future. It would appear that the process of public consultation was a sham and the government has gone ahead with what it had made up its mind to do from the very beginning.


The builders’ lobby has welcomed the plan, especially the permitting of MSBs along roads where they were hitherto disallowed. In addition, a relaxation of rules on the Floor Space Index permissible for each area has also been recommended. This is also expected to boost real estate development in the city. That the government has largely worked at the behest of the builders’ lobby is clear from the fact that the area surrounding the Pallikaranai marsh was initially notified in the approved master plan as agricultural/vacant space but within two days of the plan being notified was changed to primary residential area.


The Commissioner of the Corporation claims that the new plan looks at vertical development of the city which will translate into a smaller and therefore more easily manageable area to govern. A larger area he opines, will be more difficult to administer and provide amenities for. This flies in the face of logic and in the way cities have developed all over the world. The emphasis has been on decongestion and encouraging the spreading out into suburbs. The Chennai administration itself has been doing this for some time, albeit in a half-hearted fashion. The Koyambedu Vegetable Market was planned as an alternative to Kothwal Chawadi, the Sattangadu Iron Market came as a replacement to the one in George Town and the prison moved from Park Town to Puzhal. In the light of these, the argument in favour of congested, vertical development fails.


Those concerned with spatial development of the city are not happy with the plan. The relaxing of Floor Space Index (FSI) norms for builders who are promoting housing for low income groups in the city is the first area of concern. In a metro where there is hardly any space on the roads for free movement, the relaxing of FSI will only mean further congestion and less scope for ventilation and easy access. This in turn means more dependence on artificial methods of lighting and cooling which will necessitate greater consumption of power. The demands that greater density in housing will place on ground water and sewage have also not been taken into account while making these recommendations. Parking space, which is recent years has become a problem of great magnitude is only going to worsen with the tightly packed buildings that will come up. It is also highly doubtful if the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority can administer its rules and watch out for violations. The relaxing of FSI and allowing of high-rise in the city would mean more potential for violation. It would also mean greater demand for allied infrastructure such as water, road space and electricity. Given the past track records of approvals and actions taken for violation, this would only see an administration that is not geared up to handle the demands placed on it. The absence of any kind of zoning which Chennai has adopted in the past decade or so continues in this plan as well. It is clear that in the entire development exercise, the quality of life in the city has received no attention.


Even as the document speaks of inclusive development and the need to provide transport solutions, the metro rail corridors have been left out of it. How such an important development which will have a direct impact on city life can be considered outside the purview of the master plan is a mystery. It is clear that the concept of public transport has been completely overlooked. A city with the population density of Chennai needs effective public transport if the roads are to be decongested. This sentiment was recently expressed by none other than the Finance Minister of India at a city based event when he said that in the past India had made the mistake of catering only to private car owners and the trend would have to change to one of effective public transport. The plan makes no mention of how usage of public transport is going to be encouraged.


The second important aspect overlooked in the plan for a new city in the south, for which the exercise of road networks and site layouts near Vandalur has already begun. It appears that the entire plan has been an inward looking exercise with no touch with ground reality.


From a national point of view, the plan makes no effort to translate national policies on water, roads and slums in to the plan. It is clearly an exercise in isolation, where an administration, devoid of any planning concepts has paid homage at the altar of real estate.


Interestingly, the first master plan was made thirty three years ago. Even then, the city was divided into 96 planning zones and out of these, the plans for only 56 were implemented. The balance has remained on paper. It is to be seen how soon the detailed plans at the local level based on the new master plan take off.