Whether the city keeps its date with the slated inauguration of a 10-km stretch of the Metro Rail system under construction by 2013 or not, a section of residents will remain unhappy anyway.
Many of them live in north Chennai amid the dusty bylanes of Royapuram, the flood-prone zones of Tondiarpet or the heavily congested streets of Tiruvottiyur. Though Tiruvottiyur-Airport was one of the first corridors identified way back in 2003 for implementing the Metro Rail system, the proposed extension of the Metro up to Tiruvottiyur now is in limbo.
The State Cabinet cleared the 9-km link between Washermenpet, where an underground Metro station is set to come up, and Wimco Nagar in Tiruvottiyur, last year. The extension project awaits Central government clearance, which is a funding partner in all the five Metro Rail systems that are currently being built in cities across the country.
But senior government sources say that the possibility of approval is bleak. The State government itself has shifted its attention towards monorail, citing huge investment cost and traffic flow problems during the construction phase of Metro Rail. The approval of the project is essentially a “political decision”, sources said.
“Unless the present government pursues the project, it will not be sanctioned,” says Delhi Metro Managing Director E.Sreedharan. “It is very easy to get sanction. All that the State government has to do is write a letter to the Centre stating that it is still committed to its 20 per cent stake in the project.”
He points to the second and third phases of the Delhi Metro project, which were approved in a matter of months. “The Centre is keen to consider metro systems even in cities with a population of two million.” Chennai with a population of over seven million clearly requires a larger metro rail network, he says.
CMRL's project report also shows that extending Corridor-I of the Metro up to Tiruvottiyur would increase ridership of the overall system by 30-40 per cent.
Sumit Chatterjee, Director (Urban Transport), Ministry of Urban Development said: “Right now, we are in no position to rush through with the [Tiruvottiyur] extension. Phase-I construction is on. It is expected to be completed only by 2015-16. It can be considered only after this phase is completed.”
Stressing that many other Metro systems are competing for funds, he said: “We have to prioritise. It all depends on what is raised by CMRL as its immediate requirements.” MoUD would be releasing Rs.2,100 crore for the Chennai metro project this fiscal, he added. The Centre's contribution in the Tiruvottiyur corridor is only around Rs.600 crore.
A.T.B. Bose of the North Chennai People's Rights Federation said: “We feel left out and neglected. None of the major public transport projects cover north Chennai.” Even among the 100 AC Volvo buses that operate in the city, the routes of less than five cover significant parts of north Chennai and only one reaches Tiruvottiyur.
He alleged that the Metro Corridor-I which was originally supposed to go up to Tollgate was modified to ensure there were underground sections in Anna Nagar and Poonamallee. “An elevated corridor was supposed to come up even in those areas. In order to save the houses of a few influential persons, the government opted for an underground section and project cost escalated. Parts of the alignment that fell in north Chennai were dropped to compensate,” he added.
Even as residents await a decision on the Tiruvottiyur Metro link, people like R.Tamil Selvi, who lives in Royapuram, say they have been dreaming about a metro rail corridor in their part of the city since 2004. “We suffer due to traffic congestion every day. Lower income groups have also begun moving from Mint and Washermenpet towards Tiruvottiyur due to the increase in property prices. We can only live with hope of having a Metro one day.”