Why should infrastructure projects stop every time a government changes?

The Rs. 1,815 crore elevated expressway project from Chennai Port to Maduravoyal, started with much fanfare in September 2010, has been put on hold.

Hundreds of cement pillars standing alongside the meandering Cooum river have been silently awaiting a solution for the last seven months – yet another case of a delayed infrastructure project.  

Who is to blame this time? Was it lack of proper planning? An unexpected hurdle? 

This project had the support of both State and Central governments. The State agreed to contribute Rs. 470 crore in the form of land and relief and rehabilitation measures, the Central government, Rs. 500 crore and the Chennai Port, Rs. 235 crore. After an initial hurdle because of land acquisition, the project picked up pace and columns were built at various locations. In 2011 the government changed, and a year later, the project came to a grinding halt.

The reasons given were that the alignment was improper and pillars had encroached on the river bed obstructing the flow of water. What is strange is that it was the same set of officials of the Water Resources Department who cleared the project in the first place, who have now raised objections. How could a project that appeared all well and certified as acceptable by professionals a year ago, turn into something that is faulty?

Each passing day without any progress only increases the cost. The compensation to be paid by the National Highways Authority of India to the contractor under various heads rises. With 30 per cent of the project having been completed, and uncertainty still lingering, only public money seems to be wasted and the addition of infrastructure to the city is delayed.

 This is not the only project the city is uncertain about. Chennai High Speed Circular Transportation Corridor that was to take off from Adyar and connect with Chennai Bypass has come to a complete halt. A detailed feasibility report was completed and a detailed project report was to have been prepared for the first phase.

Another proposal that has been grounded is the formation of bicycle tracks by the Chennai Corporation.  The Corporation had been considering bicycle tracks in Adyar and Besant Nagar, areas that have a high density of schools and many students who get there by bicycle. Initially, an 8 km stretch of arterial roads in Anna Nagar, which serves 14 schools, was to be covered for a pilot project. Design proposals were prepared and even publicised. Now there is no news about the project.

The question is, why should critical infrastructure projects that are essential to the city stop every time a government changes? The departments and officials who administer the projects in one government completely change face and position when another takes over, and bring out convoluted reasons against implementing or completing them. It is the city and people who bear the brunt and suffer from these whimsical changes and decisions.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, despite changes in government, many projects continue. It appears public interest and careful use of common resource are a priority there.  Will Chennai ever learn?

More In: Chennai | News | Columns