Smart Cities are the in-thing, at least as far as Government’s planning mechanisms are concerned. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is no different, and we learnt that it is preparing itself for taking up the planning required in the newly added area to the city’s metropolitan limits. But, given its track record, as far as the old areas are concerned, is the CMDA going to function any different when it comes to the new?

On paper it all looks fantastic – sustainable environment policy, enforcement measures to bring down noise, air and water pollution, recycling of water, environment management, tree plantation, decongestion, necessity to regulate development, strengthening satellite townships, strict enforcement of development regulations, ensuring open space regulation land, implementation of road width norms and requirement of completion certificates for buildings for them to get electricity and water connections. What more could a smart city ask for? It is all there on paper. By reading this you would not be far wrong in thinking that the newly added areas to the city are one lucky lot – so many wonderful regulations awaiting them.

Now let us look at how the old areas of the city have fared under the same laws. The Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, noted last year that while particulate matter in Chennai may be lower than other metros, and that is largely thanks to the sea breeze, there has been a rapid escalation of particulate matter, a 193 per cent jump between 2007 and 2013. The CSE attributes this to the continued building of car-centric transport mechanisms – flyovers and zero signal one-ways which are becoming emission traps. As for water, while we may be the first city in India to formally implement rainwater-harvesting (RWH) schemes, a recent study has revealed that more than 100,000 government buildings are yet to implement it, more than 18 years since the programme was made compulsory in the State. In fact, the much touted completion certificate of the CMDA is supposed to be withheld in case RWH is not in place in a building, and yet these Government departments have been happily functioning, with electricity and water supply!

As for green cover, as our readers are aware, environmentalists are fighting the Government’s plan to reduce the buffer zone around the Guindy National Park so that neighbours can build without restriction. And that brings us to the vexed issue of illegal constructions in the city. Various ordinances and legislations between 1999 and 2007 were passed to regularise them, which just goes to show that such violations were not viewed seriously. The matter has since become sub judice. In 2012, a leading newspaper of the city showed that, according to the Government’s own admission, more than 50 per cent of the buildings in the city have violated rules! There is no reason to imagine that the situation has improved since then. Last year, a grand plan was announced that the city would follow Ahmadabad (it is amazing how that city is considered the font of all wisdom these days) and appoint a 200-member panel to monitor illegal buildings. That scheme has remained on paper.

With this background, how does the CMDA imagine that it can convert the newly included areas into Valhallas where nothing could be less than ideal? And what about the mess that is prevailing in the older suburbs, not to mention the city? Have these been abandoned as a bad job leaving the residents to manage in whatever manner they can? Unless the city’s top planning body overhauls its current manner of working when it comes to implementation of its laudable rules, there is no way that any of the newer areas are going to be any different. And there’s going to be nothing smart about that.