Merged areas turning restless, waiting for dreams of better facilities and services to come true

Ripon Buildings, the seat of Chennai Corporation, with a new Mayor, Commissioner and set of councillors is busy like never before. The officials and elected representatives are working overtime to get ready a blueprint stringing together the proposed development plans of Greater Chennai, with initial emphasis on improving the facilities in the new areas on a par with those in the city.

The urgency of the task could not be understated as the residents of the merged areas are increasingly turning restless in their eagerness to get a feel of upgraded facilities and services. Many complain that months after the merger there are no indications of the plans. “Lack of manpower and equipment is so evident in our areas. We hoped that once the elections were over, we would see some changes, especially in conservancy operations… but that has not happened. The old set-up, which was literally non-existent before the merger, continues,” said J. Rajeswari, a resident of Puthagaram.

R.Padmasundari, a resident of Mogappair, said: “Earlier, we used to have phone numbers of municipal officials and ward members. But now such details have not been provided by the Corporation. The ward councillor does come if we call him, but unable to do anything for the area. Even basic maintenance work such as repair of streetlights and garbage disposal has been affected.”

Roads, water, sanitation, staff management and a host of issues vie for Corporation officials' attention. With the new team barely a few weeks old, a clear picture is yet to emerge, say residents. “Many projects, including re-laying of roads and construction of stormwater drains and bus shelters were kept in abeyance due to the local body elections,” says M. Mahalingam, a resident of Manali.

Admitting that there has been a slump in taking up maintenance work, councillors in Ambattur and Maduravoyal said that the problems would be solved, once the supervisory staff took charge in a few days. Funds are being allotted for civic works for each ward. Garbage clearance and streetlight maintenance are given priority as they can be immediately streamlined.

A former councillor of Ullagaram Puzhudhivakkam Municipality said that after the merger, no work was happening. “Even to purchase a small hose for pumping out stagnant water, they are saying we need to get permission. To fill potholes with debris, they say we have to call for tenders. When we were a municipality, we used to take up works faster. Now this is a huge civic body and we have become insignificant.”

Will take at least 1.5 years

Sources in the civic body said that the expanded areas did not have enough staff and works by the erstwhile administration were not implemented in a coordinated way. “It will take, at least, 1.5 years to improve facilities. How much ever the work is speeded up, there are a lot of practical difficulties and things cannot be done overnight. There are hundreds of unauthorised constructions in those areas and they have to be regularised and then plans evolved for the locality.”

On the challenges in the expanded areas, former Commissioner of Chennai Corporation M.P.Vijaykumar said: “It is a challenge because there are inherent problems in the expanded areas because of poor infrastructure. But these areas have not come from a vacuum... there were systems in place. It is possible to organise door-to-door collection of garbage, re-laying of roads and streetlights in just two months. It is all a question of putting a proper system in place and supervising,” he said.

M.Panneerselvam, former Chief Engineer, Chennai Corporation, said that the civic body should prioritise works. It could take up road patch work and conservancy operations at night. “Garbage and debris clearance must be their first priority,” he said.

G.Dattatri, former chief planner, CMDA, says that the budget outlay of the Corporation must expand by at least four times. “As a first step, all commercial and non-residential properties must be reassessed to ascertain their correct value. There is a need for massive reform in property taxation methods for non-residential use. Many houses are currently being assessed for commercial purposes.”

By bringing in additional revenue, the Corporation would be in a better position to leverage loans and grants from the Central government, he adds.

While the city limits may have been expanded, existing governance structures are not at all adequate. If we continue in the present state, things will not improve. As per the 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution, a Metropolitan Development Committee comprising government officials and experts must be set up in Chennai. More power and finances have to be provided to local government, Mr.Dattatri said.

Corporation Commissioner P.W.C.Davidar said integration activities are required in the entire Corporation area for more effective functioning. “A detailed roadmap is being prepared. Revenue aspects such as street correlation statement for both professional tax and property tax have been reviewed and the work is expected to be completed by December 20. Requirement of vehicles for the newly demarcated zones has been identified and immediate steps initiated for the purchase of vehicles,” he said.

The civic body has also proposed to take over responsibility of maintenance of roads under the control of the Highways Department in the newly added areas. A chunk of the Rs.5,555 crore estimated for improvement of roads under the Mega City Development Mission in five years is likely to be used by the civic body.

(With inputs from K.Lakshmi, Ajai Sreevatsan, Aloysius Xavier Lopez and Deepa H Ramakrishnan)

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