Pots and potholes drive the city nuts

Chennai, Jan 27 | Updated: Jan 28 2005, 05:30am hrs
Its a piquant situation, and one that symbolises the authorities failure to rise to the challenge of solving the citys infrastructure problems.

Well aware that a lasting solution was needed to the citys infamous water problems, Union finance minister P Chidambaram, himself a resident of Chennai, announced a desal plant in his last Budget. In June this year, the state government has also set up a Chennai Desal Company, a special purpose vehicle, to carry out the project. The authorities have started floating bids for constructing the plant. However, there is no clarity among officials whether both the projects are one and the same and how it would be funded.

Whether it is the water situation, or public transport, or roads, the citys infrastructure leaves much to be desired. If Bangalores crumbling infrastructure has seen IT companies relocating, policymakers in Tamil Nadu should realise that Chennai too could lose out in the same way.

Water scarcity continues, and not necessarily in summer alone. Those unwilling to come out at midnight for the governments water tankers pay a great deal for potable water.

The New Veeranam Project has brought some relief to the water-starved city. The project, completed at a cost of Rs 720 crore, helps the civic administration to distribute 180 million litre per day (mld) treated water to residents. However, according to critics, this may not be sustainable in the long run.

Former chief engineer of the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department (PWD) CS Kuppuraj says, Supply from the Veeranam Lake falls short of the requirements of the city, which has a population of 66 lakh. In 2025, Chennais population will be about one crore and the Veeranam lake will not be able to meet the needs of the teeming population.

Roads are another problem. Two IT corridors are springing up fast in east and south Chennai. Though south Chennai has some facilities, the gateway to the place is literally choked. For instance, the Kathipara junction-Tambaram road which is the gateway to the city has become a major bottleneck. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has plans to set up a multi-level flyover here, but the idea is only on paper.

Old Mahabalipuram Road is now a pale shadow of its former self, with potholes dotting the entire stretch. Two years back, the government had announced that the IT corridor would be developed into a world-class urban expressway with well-maintained landscaping. But these words have not yet translated into deeds.

Heavy traffic congestion is a common sight at all junctions. Road margins have become parking lots, while pavements have been encroached upon. The citys well-run public transport system comprising buses and Southern Railways suburban trains struggle to handle traffic during the peak hours. The states answer to this problem, the much-touted Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) - an overhead rail project - has taken off, but only partly: in the absence of proper connectivity to other public transport systems, it is not patronised by many commuters.

Crowded public transport coupled with highly paid techies means that the vehicular population (two-wheelers and cars) has been multiplying. It is said that there were 16 lakh vehicles in the city on January 1, 2004 and 500 more are being added every day. Pollution, too, is consequently increasing.