It was too good to last. Given the pressure that land faces in a city like ours, it was only a question of time before someone or the other began eyeing the largest open lung of the city – the Marina beach. In what can only be termed as a misguided attempt to provide recreation facilities, the Government aims to take over thirty acres of land on the Marina to create an adventure water sports arena.
The plan, mooted by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), is now under the consideration of the Public Works Department (PWD). The TTDC, it is learnt, wants to have a place on the beach with facilities such as hot-air balloon rides, scuba diving and water-kite flying. Also on the anvil are berthing facilities for yachts and small sail boats so that regattas can be held. There is also an idea that boat services can be provided from the Marina to Puducherry and Mamallapuram.
There are several objections to all this, no matter how good they sound on paper. In the first place, we have already sacrificed enough of the Marina for all kinds of construction. Secondly, it was and should remain a place for the common folk of the city to take the air. The ideas that the TTDC has now aired are all elitist and aim to cater to foreign tourists (who are likely to find such facilities no better than from wherever they came). The beach is common property to all Chennai citizens and cannot be controlled by a few.
Thirdly, the TTDC’s own record of providing such facilities is rather poor. One was on the Island Grounds and offered recreations such as reverse bungee jumping, rock wall climbing, paint ball, dart board, net cricket, grease pole climbing, squad bike and archery. This came a cropper following very poor public patronage. The other scheme was at Mudaliarkuppam near the city where para-sailing and water-skiing were offered at exorbitant rates, ostensibly to lure up-market clientele. This too failed. As of date, both the facilities at Island Grounds and Mudaliarkuppam stand withdrawn. What is the guarantee that the proposed Marina scheme for the will fare any better?
Lastly, it appears that those who came up with this idea have forgotten that the sea here has had a history of tragedies ranging from drowning incidents to the massive tsunami that hit the coast ten years ago. Professional swimmers and divers speak of a deadly current that runs all along the shore. How safe will it be to have water-sporting facilities here?
While details of the scheme are still awaited, it is clear that this is yet another instance of wanting to take over the Marina. This is not the first time and it certainly will not be the last. The earliest instance was 110 years ago when a railway line was planned across the sea front, connecting George Town with Mylapore. That was abandoned following public protest. The Mass Rapid Transport System wanted to revive the idea in the 1980s until better counsel prevailed though the Buckingham Canal ultimately had to fall victim to that piece of development. Then came the scheme of the 1990s when it was envisaged that a series of high-rise constructions would come up a la Shanghai, catering to a well-heeled expatriate clientele. That idea was dropped once the tsunami hit the coast. We wonder what will save the Marina this time. Public outcry is the only hope, if we are to save this common recreational facility from encroachment in the name of development. The citizens of Bangalore have shown that they were capable of this when Cubbon Park was similarly threatened. Can Chennaiites prove that they are of the same mettle?