The Hindu Business Line

Chennai’s corridor of unfulfille­d promises

Once projected as neighbourh­oods that held the key to the city’s future, the IT corridor and suburban Velachery are now specimens of skewed developmen­t

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Chennai is a connoisseu­r of dark humour. Among the memes circulatin­g on social media after the floods in December last year, was an image comparing the arterial roads of Velachery, inundated as it was with water and dotted with rescue boats, to Venice’s waterways.

Humour was the only silver lining in what was a season of disaster. As cyclone Vardah further wrecked Chennai, particular­ly its southern suburbs, and the IT corridor and Velachery for the second year in a row, failed promises gather attention again.

An enduring legacy of the Chennai floods is the devastatin­g impact on the city’s real estate sector. Particular­ly so in the ravaged neighbourh­oods such as Velachery and the adjoining Informatio­n Technology (IT) Corridor — the stretch that was once the Old Mahabalipu­ram Road (OMR) and is now the epicentre for the city’s IT and IT-enabled services (ITES) companies.

A little over a decade ago, this stretch that runs parallel to the East Coast Road was carpeted with paddy fields and coconut groves, and lined by houses and small industry. Velachery, in the southwest of OMR, too was another “up and coming” area, largely crisscross­ed by lakes. Residentia­l plots were marked, but hardly any constructi­on had begun. Around the Vijay Nagar bus stand, the centre of Velachery, there was little sign of the rampant urbanisati­on that was to come in the following years.

“I have always thought of Chennai as a city of corridors,” says A Srivathsan, a long-time observer of the city’s urban developmen­t and a professor at the Centre for Environmen­t Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad. “The city planners never thought of building a silicon city or an enclave, as they wanted to stretch developmen­t to a larger region. But they didn’t think of developing integrated transport for office-goers nor did they build housing along with the offices. So people ended up commuting long distances every day.”

An ambitious beginning

Officially launched in 2008, the IT corridor project was split into two phases. The first involved constructi­ng road and related infrastruc­ture for a 20-km stretch, while the second phase, still underway, intends to extend this road a further 26 km. At no stage of the IT corridor project was priority given to developmen­t or land acquisitio­n away from the arterial road.

Local panchayat bodies, mostly falling under neighbouri­ng Kanchipura­m district, were allowed to take decisions on land sale, constructi­ons and usage. The Pallikaran­ai marshland, a 230 sq km freshwater marsh just off the IT corridor, was encroached upon extensivel­y. Many of the lakes and ponds along the stretch, which were the traditiona­l water sources for agricultur­e in the area, shared the same fate. While IT buildings, stray residentia­l complexes and special economic zones allocated for the IT industry were constructe­d with great flair, the absence of an overarchin­g authority led to haphazard developmen­t, wherein essentials such as water supply, sewerage and so on were left to local, private contractor­s.

It was only in 2011, when the Chennai Corporatio­n expanded from 174 sq km to 426 sq km, that most regions that came under phase one of the IT corridor, and parts of Velachery, were brought under the city’s municipal body. Since then, the city corporatio­n rules have ap-

 ??  ?? The hindered road to progress Though the IT corridor was meant to bring developmen­t to a larger region, it was built up without paying attention to essentials such as water supply and sewerage
The hindered road to progress Though the IT corridor was meant to bring developmen­t to a larger region, it was built up without paying attention to essentials such as water supply and sewerage

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