The Mayoral elections are over and the new incumbent has taken charge. We at Madras Musings earnestly hope that he has had the time to see our list of tasks that have to be attended to at right earnest. But even if the Mayor has the will to get these tasks done, can the Corporation get its act together, especially in the light of the vast increase in its territory? Past experience does not quite encourage us to think positively.
Lets face it. The city’s corporation has had no prior experience of such a large scale increase in its jurisdiction. The last significant addition in area was in the 1970s when a mere 16 sq kms was added. How does that compare with the recent accretion when what once a municipal area of 174 sq km suddenly balloons into 426 sq kms? What was till recently a city of 10 zones and 155 wards will now comprise 15 zones and 200 wards.
The reason that is given out for this expansion is that the city and its suburbs will have a uniform development. Current official view that the outskirts have not kept pace with infrastructural development the way the inner city has. The view of the man on the road however differs from all this. Most people hold the opinion that infrastructure within the earlier limits of Chennai was nothing to write home about and that water, power, roads and open spaces have been subject to severe strain all along. And given the rampant construction activity that is going on all the time, very often without permission, there is very little to crow about regarding quality of life in Chennai. They fear that the expanded area will mean that what little attention was being given to the older wards will now be spread thin over a much larger territory, causing greater infrastructural stress.
They cite the continuing fiasco over garbage clearance to support their argument. The introduction of private conservancy services was long overdue and when it was finally done, it was only in a few zones of the city. Here again, there was no long term planning on garbage segregation and disposal. And when the clearing agency was found wanting, prompt action was not taken to find another vendor. Instead, after a good four years of masterly inactivity, the Corporation rather lackadaisically began clearing the garbage using its own staff in a couple of zones and ended up pleasing no one. Such tardy and lethargic response when it comes to matters pertaining to a live and dynamic city is simply not acceptable. How will this translate to garbage handling over a much larger area?
The Corporation may not realise it, there has been a steady whittling down of its powers. The CMDA now handles planning, the Chennai Metrowater Supply and Sewerage Board handles what its name suggests and several special purpose vehicles such as the Adyar Poonga Trust and Chennai Metrorail Limited handle other activities, all of which actually have a bearing on the Corporation. Are all these agencies, boards and companies also to have an increase in jurisdiction?
In the all the euphoria of amalgamation, the voices of those living in the outskirts have not been listened to. Residents there feel that once they fall under the Corporation, the local attention they have so far enjoyed under their respective municipalities will be lost. They also think that their local councillors will be called away by the demands of a larger city and will therefore lose touch with ground reality. To counter this those in favour are citing the success of the National Capital Region with Delhi as its centre. But it must not be forgotten that the capital of the country gets an inordinate amount of attention and assistance, the likes of which Chennai may never hope to receive. What price then this enhancement of area under the Chennai Corporation?