Chennai Corporation - 325 and counting

From bullock carts to trash compactors and tubelights to LEDs, the Corporation has come a long way. In the 325th year of the civic body, Aloysius Xavier Lopez tracks the transformation, largely powered by technology

September 29, 2013 01:57 am | Updated June 02, 2016 04:06 pm IST - chennai

Mint buildings in North Madras of 1964 — Photo: The Hindu Archives

Mint buildings in North Madras of 1964 — Photo: The Hindu Archives

In the Flower Bazaar area, an embellished twin-armed pole with two lamps stands as a mute testimony to a time when the Chennai Corporation did things at a more comfortable pace.

Similar vestiges of the Corporation’s past are few. Much about those times is learnt only from grainy black-and-white photos at the archives.

From a bunch of photos available with The Hindu , it can be inferred that for around 300 years, the civic body was dealing with solid waste in a manner singularly lacking in technology. Even images, just around 20 years old, show garbage being carried by bullock carts.

Only in 1996 did these carts stop lumbering through the streets of the city, when autos took over their job. But with consumerism creeping in as the natural fallout of a globalised economy, waste generation began to grow exponentially.

Autos proving inadequate, lorries trundled in. Waste collection methods, as we know them today, made their appearance in 2006 when the civic body brought in compactors.

When the Corporation began work on its first flyover in 1998, on Peter’s Road, it was not shackled by the concerns that accompany projects of this nature today.

The flyover was expected only to facilitate easy vehicular movement in that area, especially providing quicker access to Government Royapettah Hospital.

This expectation sharply contrasts with what drives flyover projects today — a corridor approach, junction improvement and multi-modal integration of public transport systems.

This multi-faced approach to flyover planning is best illustrated by the proposed project to link Poonamalle High Road and Kodambakkam High Road with a grade separator consisting of numerous connecting ramps.

At the Council meeting on September 28, Mayor Saidai Duraisamy said out of the 30,560 interior roads, 18,264 are damaged. In other words, more than 60 per cent of roads are not in good condition.

Among the reasons urban planners cite for this situation is the explosion of technology and the concomitant changes in urban planning. Digging work for provision of telecom infrastructure, piped water and power supply are factors contributing to difficulty in maintaining roads in motorable condition.

However, the difference between the past and the present is nowhere as marked as in the evolution of lighting technology.

Until 1997, even streets in the central business district of Chennai were lit only by tubelights. Sodium vapour lamps made things significantly brighter, but pale in comparison to present-day lighting technology.

Interior roads in extended areas are set to receive over 1.1 lakh LED lights through an initiative largely made possible by World Bank funding. The performance of these lamps is expected to be enhanced by web-enabled, automated streetlight monitoring system, for which a pilot project has already begun in Besant Nagar.

In conclusion, the Corporation’s responsibilities have multiplied considerably with 10,000 civic development works underway at any given time. But technology has emerged as its greatest ally, making it possible for the civic body to shape its aspirations into reality.

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