The State has ignored the four-year-old proposal to create two new corporations headquartered in Avadi and Tambaram

The State government has disappointed Chennai this budget session. While it announced that Thanjavur and Dindigul, with populations of 2.2 lakh and 2.07 lakh respectively, would be upgraded to municipal corporations, it overlooked the long-pending need for bifurcating and upgrading Chennai region. The government ignored the four-year-old proposal to create two new corporations headquartered in Avadi and Tambaram.

When the city expands and exceeds an optimum size, bifurcation of the city region becomes necessary to administer better and deliver quality urban services. Often, the suburbs grow rapidly than the city and accommodate bulk of the population. Local bodies which govern these areas have poor capacity to, and find it difficult, to mobilise revenue to invest and improve. Aggregating smaller local bodies into an upgraded Corporation provides the institutional infrastructure for better governance.

In Chennai metropolitan area, which is about 1,189 sq. km. in size, Metrowater service is limited to city limits. In other areas, the local bodies take care of water supply and it is not satisfactory. The quality of roads, drainage system and solid waste management are grossly inadequate. In terms of absolute numbers, this means 4.6 million people living within the Corporation limits are served better than the four million living in the suburbs.

In terms of population too, Chennai needs administrative changes. Avadi municipality has a population of 3.4 lakh. Tambaram and Pallavaram municipalities together accommodate another 3.9 lakh people — more than Thanjavur and Dindigul. If the adjoining villages and town panchayats are included, the numbers would swell and the population in both areas would cross 5 lakh — the threshold size for creating a municipal corporation.

In 2007, the DMK government, releasing that Chennai city cannot expand endlessly and excessively, constituted a high-level committee to explore the possibilities of creating new corporations. The committee proposed three divisions — existing Chennai city, Chennai-Ambattur and Chennai-Tambaram. It explored two approaches: First, maintain existing city limits and create two large corporations in Ambattur and Tambaram. Second, moderately increase city limits and create two medium-sized corporations. The committee recommended five alternatives based on this idea and held public consultations in 2008.

When the committee delineated the three corporations, it took care to keep the revenue base of these divisions reasonably healthy. It disagreed with any disproportionate increase of Chennai city limits. The committee cautioned that such increase may lead to wide disparity in income and would be unfair to adjoining local bodies.

Strangely, when the final report was submitted to the government, the committee went against its own reasoning and presented two drastically different options that were not part of public discussions. The first proposal suggested the creation of mega Chennai — 800 sq. km. in size. The second recommended the expansion of the city from 176 sq. km. to 426 sq. km. and creation of two corporations in Avadi (168 sq. km.) and Tambaram (218 sq. km.). In 2009, the government approved the second option but decided to create Avadi and Tambaram corporations later.

When this proposal was discussed in the Assembly, it was opposed by the AIADMK and other political parties. They pointed out that large expansions would skew development. They had good reasons to think so. Many hoped the AIADMK, after coming to power, would correct this mistake and quickly set up the two promised corporations. It appears this may take more time. Till then, those living in the suburbs have to endure poor quality of life.

More In: Chennai | News | Columns