The city of Madras that is Chennai is now one large excavation. Every road resembles a surgery, with a patient having been opened up, awaiting an operation. There are three principal agencies at work – the Chennai Metrorail Limited, TANGEDCO and Chennai Corporation. While the first is a long-drawn project, to last over many years, the other two are (hopefully) timebound and need to be completed before the monsoons set in. If the experience of the last few years are anything to go by and the rains are as intense, we need functional roads if we are to survive. The question is, are these agencies even addressing this? And how long-lasting will the solutions be?

The methodology of cutting trenches seems to be primitive in the extreme. There is the usual employment of manual labour and a few machines and the process is slow. Between the marking of places to be cut and the actual excavation there is long hiatus and as is usual, there are no plans in place for alternate routes for motorists or for that matter pedestrians. Rather than progressively cut through a locality and close up the same way, entire stretches of roads are dug up, leaving whole areas inaccessible. What was the necessity for this when the team that does the actual rectification post the digging up seems understaffed to take on such a large area? Would it not have been better to progress step by step? The problem lies in the contract system – the one who digs rarely is the person who executes the repair work to be completed in the trenches.

The Corporation thus finds itself facing the task of relaying 1,737 roads in the city, and this needs to be completed by October when the rains come. But will the work on the stormwater drains be completed by then? Or is this yet another of those piecemeal solutions that our civic body is so well-known for? The pressure to deliver a solution that will prevent flooding in various parts of the city is quite intense on the authorities and all eyes are on the stormwater drain construction that is ongoing. If the work does not complete by October, and satisfactorily at that by which we mean the absence of flooding, public ire can be hard to bear. The present administration got by last year chiefly because it was newly elected then, but the same consideration may not hold this October. 

Chennai’s flooding presents many challenges, the most obvious one being the lack of gradient. Over the years what we have had are a series of haphazard solutions that have only gone on to complicate matters. Each relaying of a road or a footpath and each new construction alters the topography, leading to sharp changes in defining what were earlier sinks for rainwater. The Corporation hardly ever looks at such details when it is meant to precisely that, and what is then created is unbelievable chaos. There are instances of streets where the gradient has completely changed direction over the years. The construction of just one high rise in a locality can bring about a complete transformation for the worse. Having been silent on all of this, how does the Corporation hope to change the situation all of a sudden?

The problem of rising road levels is now a serious menace. Entire streets and buildings within them find themselves at lower levels to main roads, making them natural targets for flooding. The Corporation’s latest attempt at relaying of roads indicates it has not mended its ways on this aspect too. How then can the problem of flooding be addressed?

Let’s face it, while the present activity may be good enough (hopefully) for now, what is needed in reality is a thorough study on gradients, slopes and violations therein. The Corporation needs to embark on this exercise, locality by locality. It may be as long winded a project as Chennai Metrorail but it will be worthwhile in the long run.