OMR, Chennai’s proclaimed road to real-estate heaven, is paved with gaping infrastructure holes

Infrastructure is beautiful. A great airport, a high-speed local train network, an awe-inspiring bridge and a perfectly designed storm-water drainage system are not just economically useful. If created and designed well enough, they are a source of pride, indicative of a community prepared to invest in itself.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see that the one area that truly reflects the fortunes of the Chennai residential real-estate market is also the one that best mirrors its gapingly absent infrastructure. On Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), formally known as Rajiv Gandhi Salai, the growth of the IT corridor and the various concessions given by the government in promoting industry here led to the growth of one of the biggest residential markets in Chennai.

It became a hub for real estate developers during the pricing peak in 2007 and even after, during the slump, finally coming full circle with prices soaring now. However, the darling of the Chennai real-estate industry has a number of veiled realities behind it that indicate that despite the building boom, the quality of life for residents here leaves a lot to be desired.

“While development is being pushed ahead by commercial, residential and retail space, the biggest problem is the complete lack of basic infrastructure. Whether it’s roads, connectivity, storm-water drains or amenities such as piped drinking water,” says Chitty Babu, chairman, Akshaya Private Limited. Akshaya presently has 11 properties on OMR, both finished and in the pipeline.

Connectivity issues

According to Babu, the biggest problems are connectivity and the traffic bottlenecks that follow. “If you want to get onto OMR today, there are only three ways — through Adyar, ECR or GST. It’s ridiculous, we have only road infrastructure, there is no other mode of transport. Because the main road still isn’t fully widened, public buses cannot move very fast, resulting in the clogging of roads.”

Public connectivity comes up to the MRTS station in Velachery; there is nothing beyond that. At present, the State government has sanctioned over Rs.200 crore towards expanding the four-lane road into a six-lane, in what is known as Phase II of OMR. However, Phase I, whose tolling operations began by the end of 2008, has yet to be completed with residents complaining of pavements lying unfinished for years now.

“Everybody has to find their own way on the road. The service lane is not put into use for proper transport. The OMR main road has no pavement for walkers, and no cycle tracks for cyclers,” says P. Ganesh, a resident of Perungudi. Large commercial buses use the existing service lanes as parking spaces.

The financial year of 2012-13 saw the launch of over 14,900 residential units in Chennai, which are scheduled to be finished over the next two-three years. Of these units, over 57 per cent were launched in South Chennai, including OMR and Velachery. By the next month, over 8,000 apartments on OMR will be ready to be handed over to buyers.

It beggars belief to suppose that the government will be able to provide the infrastructure necessary to support the rapid expansion on OMR as well on new suburbs such as Perungudi, which have been inducted recently into the Chennai Corporation. The task will be especially difficult when it comes to amenities such as drinking water and storm-water drains. According to Corporation sources, in areas such as Perungudi, there is a constant struggle with contractors designated to lay roads.

Topsy-turvy growth

“While they have rushed to black-top the roads, we are not able to lay down the infrastructure necessary for storm-water drains. Only after we lay it down, can we start linking the sewage pipes to the plants to which they are supposed to go,” say Corporation officials. “We have started to focus on the roads branching off the main road — the vital ones that are used to get on to the main road. Under the Mega City Development Mission, some work is progressing,” they claim. According to them, the work they are doing for the new wards under the Chennai Corporation will finish by the end of the year.

Officials at Tamil Nadu Road Development Company Ltd (TNRDC) maintain, however, that the main OMR road, including pavements, will be finished by October. They profess ignorance, though, on what will be done about the fact that the long arm of Metro Water does not reach most of the roads off OMR For now, there is the unedifying smell and sight of sewage trucks coming to fancy apartment blocks two or three times a day to cart off sewage waste. These are followed by water trucks. Innumerable school buses carry children off to schools in Adyar and elsewhere. “The ideal situation would have been to have all basic infrastructures in place before we started developing. The situation here, however, is that, based on our development, the infrastructure seems to be catching up slowly. If you go off the main OMR road, there is absolutely nothing. What we have heard is that in Perungudi and the surrounding areas, they have started providing facility for sewage while waiting for the plants to be allocated and built,” says Mehul Doshi, director, Doshi Housing.

“We do as much as we can within our own projects, but there is little we can do to affect the surrounding areas. No Metro Water means we must depend on our own borewells,” he adds.

As of March 2012, close to 80,000 residential units are under various stages of construction in the Chennai market. Officials like to claim that the entire infrastructure problem will be solved in one stroke by the latest wheeze, the Mega City Development Mission. Ultimately, though, it is clear that the model of development must be changed if Chennai is to grow outward into its suburbs.

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