Insufficient road, rail and air connectivity adds to voters’ woes in Coimbatore

The next Member of Parliament representing Coimbatore has his task cut out – in improving the city’s infrastructure needs that have not been fulfilled for the past decade or so. For, if that is done, this industrial, medical and educational hub of western Tamil Nadu can comfortably shed its ‘Tier II city’ tag, to be rated as one of the modern Indian cities with ample basic amenities.

This yearning for road, rail and air connectivity stems from the growth Coimbatore has witnessed on almost all fronts in the past — in textile industry, pump manufacturing sector, educational institutions, sports, etc. But the city does not have enough good roads. The road to southern Tamil Nadu is only two-lane wide. The proposed road from Neelambur to Mettupalayam Road is yet to move from the drawing board to the ground.

The road-widening work from Chengapalli to Walayar is not progressing at the expected pace and the Pollachi-Mysore road work is still not a reality, says R. Raveendran, honorary secretary, Residents’ Awareness Association of Coimbatore. “A few of these demands are at least two-decades old,” he rues. This sprawling, predominantly urban constituency includes the Assembly segments of Palladam, Sulur, Kavundampalayam, Coimbatore North, Coimbatore South and Singanallur.

On the rail connectivity front, the story is no different. Coimbatore residents want improvements to North Coimbatore, Peelamedu and Podanur railway junctions in such a way that trains to the city stop there to enable them to disembark at the nearest point, says R. R. Balasundharam, president, Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The city also needs a night train to Bangalore, electrification of the Coimbatore-Mettupalayam stretch and, more importantly, early completion of gauge conversion work on the Podanur-Pollachi section.

International air links are also poor in that there are only two flights from Coimbatore. The reason: the airport does not have the infrastructure required for international flights. And the airport expansion project is in limbo. With a modern, international airport, medical tourism will boom in the city, which has a number of quality hospitals and experts in various fields, says L. P. Thangavelu, former president of Tamil Nadu Chapter of the Indian Medical Association.

Lack of air connectivity creates hardship for professionals and others who are forced to first land in Chennai, Kochi or Bangalore to reach Coimbatore, he adds.

Aside from the road, rail and air connectivity issues, the city also needs an education institution of national and international eminence. The Union Planning Commission and the Ministry of Human Resources Development announced in 2008 a world-class university for the city. As on date, it remains just that – an announcement, says V. Eswaran of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The textile city needs a world-class institution, more so now as the proposed Anna Technical University has also not taken off. People also need a hospital and medical education institution on a par with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Significantly, in the past four Lok Sabha elections, political fortunes here have swung between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — in 1998 and 1999 —and the main Left parties — the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) — winning in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

This time, a multi-cornered contest has widened the stakes. The voters would have to mainly choose between K. Ganesh Kumar of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), P. Nagarajan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), sitting MP P.R. Natarajan (CPI-M), C.P. Radhakrishnan (BJP) and R. Prabhu (Congress). While the re-nomination of Mr. Radhakrishnan, the BJP winner both in 1998 and 1999, has set off a flutter in intra-party circles, also in the fray is Pon. Chandran of the Aam Aadmi Party, which wants to give other parties a run for their money.

The BJP exudes confidence that the ‘Modi wave’ will help it regain the Coimbatore seat it first lost in 2004 to the CPI. The saffron party, however, faces a tough fight from the Left. With the Congress fielding one of its local veterans and former Union Minister, R. Prabhu, and the DMK and AIADMK also fielding their own candidates, the contest may be stretched to its tightly best. In textile parlance, as Coimbatore had won the sobriquet ‘Manchester of the South’ when its textile industry was booming, this constituency looks set for a ‘close-fitting’ contest.

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