The newly created Sholinganallur zone of the Chennai Corporation is a picture of contrasts. Rajiv Gandhi Salai, which is popularly known as OMR, and East Coast Road, which serve as major gateways of the city, run through this zone. While the former with several IT companies is the face of Chennai's software sector, the latter is well known for its places of interest for tourists along its route.

The condition of the localities along the two toll roads, however, leaves much to be desired. Almost all the areas lack quality basic amenities, be it interior roads, streetlights, protected water supply or drainage. The problems are of such proportions that the residents were only too happy when it was announced that their areas are to be merged with Chennai Corporation. It came at a time when the rural local bodies were simply not equipped to provide a decent quality of life, residents say. The question that is on everyone's mind now is whether the areas would get the necessary attention despite being in the tail end of the expanded Corporation.

Sholinganallur zone has nine wards. Three of them are in Okkiyam Thoraipakkam and one each in Karapakkam, Sholinganallur, Semmancheri, Neelankarai, Injambakkam and Uthandi. The population of the zone is a little over two lakh. Okkiyam Thoraipakkam and Semmanchery account for nearly 50 per cent of the population, since several families were relocated in the last few years from the city to slum board tenements there. There are 1.14 lakh voters in the zone.

“Basic amenities in areas like Semmanchery and Uthandi are woefully inadequate. With the merger, the undue influence of politicians, particularly ward members and panchayat presidents, on the development plans of the localities, is expected to end. Hopefully the new Corporation would be more responsive to our needs,” says P.Ayyappan, a resident of Uthandi.

In Semmanchery, there are several thousand tenements built by Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. Around 25,000 more are under construction. In Kannagi Nagar in Okkiam Thoraipakkam, there are 15,000 slum board tenements and an additional 6,000 are under construction – pointing to the need for development plans suiting townships.

Relocating families without creating adequate infrastructure could have a devastating effect on the residents. One of the casualties is the availability of drinking water. “Our area faces issues, including overflow of sewage, poor collection of garbage and frequent power cuts. We also do not have a government hospital nearby,” says N.Padma of Kannagi Nagar.

A grouse of Okkiam Thoraipakkam residents is that two ponds and a considerable amount of open space were taken over by the State government for widening Rajiv Gandhi Salai and construction of Kannagi Nagar tenements respectively. Suchetha Kumaradev says: “We don't have any space left for hospitals, schools or parks. Even the Pallikaranai marsh and the Buckingham Canal, which are supposed to be open spaces, have been encroached upon in many places.”

In Neelankarai, one section of the residents feel that only certain “influential areas” were well taken care of, which included provision of concrete roads and water supply, while backward pockets such as Pandian Salai were neglected. “We do not like to come to such conclusions, but how else would you describe the situation. The pathetic condition of infrastructure in our area is for all to see and yet nothing has been done to improve it,” says M.Srinivasan of Pandian Salai, that has pools of sewage.

According to him, the government was still not able to establish proper connectivity between ECR and OMR across the Buckingham Canal. “There is only one link road between these two major corridors – Kalaignar Karunanidhi Salai. There are a few minor bridges that need to be renovated. If more links are created, the pressure on Rajiv Gandhi Salai could be reduced,” says J.V.Premkumar, a resident of Metukuppam. In Injambakkam, there is simmering discontent among residents against their village panchayat, which according to them had done nothing in the past decade and more.

The new zone also includes Sholinganallur Town Panchayat, which is among the richest local bodies in the city's suburbs in terms of cash reserves. Owing to the construction of software companies and creation of special economic zones, its annual revenue has shot up several notches and it has a reserve of more than Rs.50 crore, officials says, adding that the contribution of profession tax was significant.

“What is the point in accumulating money when it is of no use? Archaic government norms prevent surplus funds of a local body to be used in neighbouring areas where people suffer. Hopefully it will be put to better use in the new areas of the Corporation,” says A.Subramanian, a pensioner and resident of Sholinganallur.

(With inputs from Deepa H Ramakrishnan)

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