Do various outlying villages suddenly become part of a city just by giving them a new postal code and bringing them under the jurisdiction of the metropolis’ civic body? We as a publication had pointed out that such moves result in no positive benefit for either the area being acquired or the civic body itself. The recent floods have more than borne out our stance.It was in 2011 that the Corporation of Chennai suddenly found itself with a large territory to handle. What had till then been a city of 174 sq km burgeoned to 426 sq km. The civic body, which till then had 10 zones and 155 wards expanded to 15 zones and 200 wards. Our editorial written then is worth quoting from:

“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.”

We had then recommended that it would be best if areas south of Tambaram were banded under a municipality of their own and a similar facility be extended to regions north of Royapuram. That way, each area would have had a civic body focusing on its specific needs and sustainable development could have been achieved. Unfortunately all this was not considered and there was much hype and misplaced celebration when the city limits were expanded.

The recent deluge has more than proven that this expansion was delusional at best. The Corporation just did not have the manpower or resources to devote to all the areas. There was uneven development – some places received inordinate attention while others remained neglected. Road laying and drainage works, the latter coming under the scope of Metrowater, were slow and, certainly, none was prepared for the volume of the rains when they chose to descend on the city. The city’s continued lackadaisical approach to waste management, also pointed out in our editorial of 2011, added to our woes – in many places it was plastic that blocked up the sewers and prevented water from flowing.

The Corporation, by its own admission, has not been able to keep illegal constructions and encroachments under check. The Commissioner had earlier in the year famously admitted to the High Court of Madras that 99 per cent of buildings in George Town were either illegal or violated regulations. This was probably true of the rest of the city. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), which is the nodal planning agency, has time and again come up with schemes to regularise illegal constructions, all of which have been frowned upon by the High Court of Madras. That indicates what the (un)official thinking on violations is. With the expanded city limit, the same lack of principles has spread all around resulting in marshland and lake areas being constructed upon, leading to these floods.

Even when it comes to relief and rehabilitation, the response has been slow. It is therefore time that the viability of the Corporation as an entity is relooked at. It needs to be broken up into more manageable units so that quality of life in Greater Chennai can improve.