The Chennai Corporation's recent budget promised a basket of facilities for residents of the city. While optimistic residents eagerly look forward to a better city in terms of infrastructure, sceptics seem to feel that the announcements are populist catering for certain sections.
They probably have reason to say so. Last year, the Chennai Corporation budget promised several things for residents. A flyover at the Usman Road – Burkit Road Junction, a foot overbridge at Little Mount, construction of an auditorium in Mylapore, a multi-speciality hospital at Alwarpet and restoration of 320 pavements, were just some of the announcements. How many of them really came up?
Residents such as Kothandaraman of Rangarajapuram pointed out that with the civic body unable to implement schemes announced in the previous years, this year's announcements of new dialysis centres and night shelter for homeless senior citizens among others might not materialise.
“The proposal for a flyover at Usman Road still remains on paper and the one at Thiruvanmiyur has been scrapped for want of funds. The lights on newly constructed flyovers do not burn and in many places the gyms run by the Corporation do not function. The state of roads is also bad. I think they make promises only not to keep them,” said Srividya, a resident of Thirumangalam.
When Chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance and Taxation Radha Sambandan presented the budget for 2010-2011 recently, she said that the allocation for capital works would be nearly 20 per cent more than for the previous fiscal.
However, Saidai P.Ravi, Leader of Opposition in the Corporation Council, said that “there are no proposals for new flyovers this year, though there is a need for such facilities. They could have taken up a city-wide traffic study and implemented those suggestions to help ease vehicular movement. Nothing much has been done to control the mosquito menace.”
For several years now the Corporation has not increased property tax rates saying that it would be an unpopular move. Even members of opposition parties have turned down the idea. K. P. Subramanian, urban engineer, said that though it was nice to read about a budget without an increase in property tax rates year after year, at least a marginal increase was necessary as otherwise the civic body would not be able to implement more projects.
“Tax payers would not mind paying a bit more if they get better facilities. Income and rental values have increased, but the Corporation does not seem to have the will to charge more,” he said.
Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni however said that funds were not a constraint for new projects. “There are enough flyovers in the city. We will be constructing new foot overbridges at six places and be strengthening existing bridges.”
However, sources in the civic body said that at the time of the proposed expansion of limits of the Corporation more funds would be needed for improving infrastructure in those areas. The civic body needs to take a loan of around Rs.400 crore for construction of stormwater drains and strengthening of 16 minor canals in the city under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
This would be a burden during the time of expansion, the sources said.
Completion of schemes on time seems to be a major issue for the Corporation. It has not been able to complete schemes announced in the previous years. Due to various reasons the civic body has been extending project deadlines and giving new dates of inauguration for facilities including the Cochrane Basin Road-Kathivakkam High Road flyover, the Monegar Choultry subway and Ganesapuram flyover.
An official of the Corporation admitted that they would not be able to complete the SWD work under JNNURM, construction of proposed multi-level parking lots at Anna Nagar, Purasawalkam and Adyar by the next budget or by the end of the term of the present council.
“Even the Mint flyover cannot be completed by next October. As work would only begin in April and the required time for the project is 18 months,” he said.
Another worry for the civic body would be the continuation of the freebies including supply of mosquito nets for babies born in Corporation hospitals and distribution of geometry boxes and pencil boxes, uniforms, shoes and bags to students of the civic body schools.
Mayor M.Subramanian said that the construction of all flyovers would be completed as soon as possible. “We are speeding up the work. As for complaints about bad roads, this year we have an increased allocation for relaying roads. The ward member fund has been further increased by Rs.5 lakh so that they can concentrate on improving facilities in their area. One cannot term our schemes populist as we are providing for those who cannot afford health and education in the private sector, which is the duty of the government.”
(With inputs from Aloysius Xavier Lopez)