Infra Vaani | How Chennai, India’s Detroit, is Crumbling underneath a Big Infrastructure Deficit


infra vaani
In Infra Vaani, famous city infra skilled Akhileshwar Sahay dissects infrastructural challenges of Indian cities and gives options. This week, he seems to be at Chennai, India’s Detroit.

On Could 1, 2022, I got here throughout a information story in a distinguished each day, it learn: ‘Koyambedu bus stand turns night time shelter for over 1k homeless’.

The story was not a shock for me – as a result of Chennai’s 40,000 homeless are struggling to outlive on this huge metropolis. Chennai, the primary Indian metropolis developed by the British, is crumbling underneath a humongous infrastructure deficit.

A Ticking Time Bomb

Chennai’s 2022 inhabitants at 11.5 million is sort of thrice its 1981 inhabitants of 4 million. Town might be residence to fifteen million folks by 2035. Town faces drought in addition to deluge (it receives annual 140 cm rainfall). It is not going to be an understatement that: local weather change threatens Chennai survival.

Chennai is a basket case of haphazard urbanisation, reckless industrialisation and callous water governance. 1974, 1982, 1992, 1996, 2003, 2017, 2019 had been the years when Chennai went with out water.

The 12 months 2019 was scary – reservoirs beneath zero-level, dried up lakes, plummeted groundwater ranges, colleges, places of work, motels and eating places shut – tanker-mafia dominated, water conflict raged, police needed to shield water sources. India’s lifeline Indian Railway needed to chip in with tens of hundreds of thousands of litres of water from far-off places to save lots of Chennai.

Chennai drought is human-induced catastrophe. The Chennai Grasp Plan, 2026 admits that the town’s waterways, Cooum, Adyar, Buckingham and Captain Cotton canal, Otteri and Mambalam, have become sewage drains.

The nemesis of ‘India’s Detroit’ is haphazard urbanisation and rampant industrialisation. It has wolfed floodplains, lakes, waterways and ponds. Chennai waterbodies in 2017 had been down to three.2 sq. km. from 12.6 sq. km in 1897, with larger damages in latest many years, says an Anna College research.

The IT hall, the image of the town’s modernity, was constructed killing 230 sq. km. marshlands. No surprise Chennai stares at Day Zero. With misplaced priorities, the waterbodies’ catchment areas and flood reduction basins received blocked, paved over and used as foundations of recent building.

ALSO READ | Infra Vaani | Infra Woes are Chipping Away at India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru is Battling for Survival

Water Woes

Water poverty severely impacts these on the backside of the pyramid or these staying on the town fringes. Municipal waterpipe grid is pipe-dream for them.

How a lot water does Chennai want? Water wants of Chennai and adjoining areas elevated from 1321 mld (million litre per day) in 1981 to 1980 mld in 2021.

Nevertheless, in the course of the 2019 drought, Chennai Metropolitan Water struggled to ship 500 mld water – even in higher instances, the water provide seldom crosses 830 mld. The findings of Mahindra-TERI Centre of Excellence research (2021) are scary – ‘water demand in Chennai Metropolitan Area shall be 2238 mld in 2025 up from 2074 mld in 2019’. Water remedy vegetation can deal with simply 1294 mld. The research additionally says – constructed up space will develop to 708.3 sq. km. in 2025 (towards 608.3 sq. km. in 2019) whereas waterbodies will shrink to 38.4 sq. (towards 50.7 sq. km. in 2019).

The Chennai Metropolitan Water squanders water: its 35-40 per cent water distribution loss each day is subsequent solely to that of Delhi Jal Board.

With floor water in disarray, floor water is the default choice. As per the Anna College research, 60 per cent groundwater shall be degraded by 2030.

After the 2000 drought, Chennai received a brand new water harvesting coverage however it failed because of poor implementation and insufficient upkeep.

And Chennai, among the many wettest cities globally, took to the ‘desert resolution’ to quench its thirst – desalination vegetation. Two vegetation of 100 mld every costing Rs 2,000 crore are already operational, a 3rd of 150 mld and price Rs 1,259.38 crores is underway and a fourth of 400 mld and costing Rs 6,078 crore is subsequent in line.

The desalination plan is economics gone incorrect. These vegetation are costly vitality gulpers with enormous environmental prices.

Improvement at a Price

The one approach to save Chennai is by decreasing consumption, bringing water loss to near-zero ranges, endeavor rainwater harvesting at an enormous scale, and thru rejuvenation of waterbodies, desilting of lakes and checking corruption.

1903, 1943, 1969, 1976, 1978, 1985, 1996, 1998, 2002 2005, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2021 – that is no jigsaw puzzle, these are years when Chennai confronted extreme rains or extreme flooding. For many years, Chennai both is with out water or drowns in water!

The Sixth Evaluation Report (2022) of Intergovernmental Panel on Local weather Change sounds the alarm on excessive flood loss dangers for a number of world coastal cities, together with Mumbai and Chennai. Politicians, fairly expectedly, blame heavy rains for deluge. In 2015, as an example, then Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa had reportedly mentioned, “damages because of very heavy rains had been inevitable”.

I want it was that easy.

Local weather change and metropolis geography are aggravators. However the root reason behind Chennai’s recurring deluge is destruction by building. Chennai improvement has disrespected, disregarded and defiled the town’s hydrology. Regardless of tragedy of displacement, disruption and demise, Chennai pursues a ruinous path – massacring wetlands, inexperienced cowl and forested areas for built-space. In 2021, the town added extra new workplace area than every other Indian metropolis.

In the course of the 2015 deluge, 300,000 million cubic toes water was drained into the ocean; if it was channelised and preserved, 2019 drought might have been prevented.

Chennai additionally couldn’t stop the 2019 drought as a result of it had killed its golden goose. The pure flood basin of Pallikaranai marshland was destroyed and decreased to one-tenth of its unique measurement. Large building killed water move inside the marsh.

The Wasteland

Drought, deluge and drainage are interconnected. With 50 per cent of Chennai with out drains, its waterbodies each day gulp 1073 mld sewage. Stinking metropolis is the plain by-product.

The sewage remedy capability is 727 mld. By 2025, Chennai will generate 1,789.2 mld sewage; until remedy capability is augmented, default sewage outlet shall be into rivers, lakes and waterbodies. Stinking Chennai will stink extra.

However sewage is untapped goldmine. By decentralised waste water remedy at scale, Chennai can produce one kilolitre water at Rs 25, half of Rs 50 per kilolitre water from desalination vegetation.

In truth, sewage and strong waste are congenital twins. As per Columbia College’s Earth Engineering Centre – Waste to Vitality Analysis and Know-how Council report (2011), Chennai generates 6,404 tonnes of rubbish each day, at 0.71 kg per capita – that is the best within the nation.

How a lot waste Chennai Metropolitan Area generates is unknown however estimates fluctuate between 5,000 metric tonnes to 10,000 metric tonnes each day. As per the Nationwide Productiveness Council report, Chennai generates 68 per cent residential, 16 per cent industrial, 14 per cent institutional, and a couple of per cent industrial waste. The Central Air pollution Management Board provides, with 420 tonnes each day, Chennai is India’s second largest plastic waste generator.

On April 30 this 12 months, 225-acre Perungudi dumping yard become an inferno. 4 days, 13 fire-engines, two skylift costing Rs 20 crore, 120 hearth males (24×7), hundreds of thousands of litres of water, 22 earth movers, 15 lorries, 7 jet rodding machines had been wanted to kill the worst landfill hearth in many years.

Each day 5,000 vehicles convey unsegregated rubbish to eight solid-waste switch centres from the place begins their journey to the dump yards – Perungudi in South and Kodungaiyur in North. Each sit atop mountains of poisonous rubbish accrued over many years. They’re unauthorised dumping yards and violate the Strong Waste Administration Guidelines, 2016.
Chennai each day sends 2800-3000 tonnes of rubbish at Kodungaiyur and 2600-2800 tonnes to Perungudi, and this doesn’t embody one other 1000 tonnes of building waste. That is all unsegregated rubbish regardless of Chennai Company making supply segregation necessary from October 2, 2017 for houses, establishments and industrial institutions in all 200 wards in 15 zones.

In 2000, Chennai turned the primary metropolis to privatise waste administration with catastrophic penalties for the town, its residents, its waste and conservancy employees.

However then got here Manali, an oasis within the desert. Manali is a residential-cum-industrial space in Chennai. The success of the Manali Mannequin is wrongly claimed by the personal operator whose contract was inexperienced flagged with fanfare by Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Ok. Palaniswami. The Manali mannequin’s success needs to be attributed to the revolutionary thought of paying folks Rs 2 per kg for segregated waste. Its architect was S. Devendran (2015), a municipal zonal officer.

In 2019, Manali turned Chennai’s first zero waste zone. Manali streets are swanky clear, variety of bins are all the way down to half and quantity of family rubbish has decreased sharply. Solely a tiny fraction of Manali rubbish goes to the landfill. The Manali mannequin exhibits that innovation by empowered citizenry can change the world. It’s time to scale up the Manali Mannequin.

At the moment many cities globally are pursuing zero-waste technology goal. Chennai is trapped within the vice-like grip of littering, non-collection, non-segregation of waste after which dumping it in a poisonous landfill. The Chennai Company will spend Rs 424 crore on strong waste this 12 months, which incorporates avenue sweeping and waste truckage. ‘Zero Waste Chennai’ is an thought whose time has come.

Choking Chennai

Even when the town survives drought and deluge, Chennaites will begin dying of air air pollution.

A Greenpeace report says 11,000 Chennaites died of air air pollution in 2020 and the financial loss for the 12 months was Rs 1 lakh crore.

It’s time to deal with the issue as a result of the state of affairs will worsen as Chennai continues pursuits of polluting industries, extreme building, rising dependence on vehicle inhabitants for mobility wants, rampant waste technology, and unsegregated dumping in poisonous landfills.

In 2012, a College of California, Berkeley research discovered Chennai was third after Kolkata and Delhi in vehicular fumes’ technology. In 2018, a Centre for Science and Surroundings research ranked Chennai second amongst 14 cities in per day particulate emissions. Proximate knowledge is scarier. Based mostly on statement for twenty-four hours (6 am on November 4, 2021 to six am subsequent day), official knowledge discovered that common AQI was 342 to 385 with very poor air high quality.

Surviving by God’s Grace

I counted each day deaths on Chennai roads. I ended abruptly when the rely crossed 100 and uttered: by God’s grace, one survived Chennai roads.

Between 2015 and 2020, 2,191 pedestrians had been killed and 9,754 injured on Chennai roads. The Nationwide Crime Data Bureau knowledge says 1,262 had been killed in highway accidents in 2019. In 2020, the determine dropped to 872 – COVID compelled many Chennaites to work at home.

The fad of Chennai roads is outrageous, and there are causes for that.

One, highway automobile quantity has exploded past 60 lakh; it was 1.5 lakh, 6 lakh and 36 lakh in 1981, 1991 and 2011.

Two, with 2780 km-long roads, Chennai automobile density (29,000 autos per kilometre) is 10 instances worse than Delhi.

Three, rash driving defines Chennai drivers. In 2020, motorists booked for rash driving had been greater than within the 12 months previous COVID-19.

4, variety of two-wheelers in Chennai is highest in India – the riders are weak to excessive fatality in highway rage.

5, Chennai is an industrial metropolis; the heavy multi-axle freight carriers in combined site visitors kill extra.

In 2004, the World Financial institution in its report ‘City Transport in Chennai and Bangalore’ mentioned: ‘The worst off are pedestrians, whose mobility and security are hindered by non-existent, broken-down, and/or obstructed sidewalks; tough avenue crossings; and flooding in monsoon seasons. The bike riders, as soon as a significant city transport mode in India, are regularly being pushed off busy roads by motor autos. These two teams account for half of all site visitors fatalities.’

What was true in 2004 is more true in 2022. However the foot soldier will get a pushover as a result of the town’s focus is car-centric infra. Additionally, the rent-seeking encourages capital-intensive options.

It’s time to reinvent, redesign and scale up infra for pedestrians and cyclists with zero tolerance to encroachment of area meant for his or her motion.

To make issues worse, a 2008 research discovered that 27 per cent Chennai road-length was completely used for parking, which is approach greater than different metropolises.

Seek for definitive resolution took me to 2 books: ‘The Excessive Price of Free Parking’ (2005) and its sequel ‘Parking and the Metropolis’ (2018) by city planning skilled Donald Shoup. He gives troika of options – one, cost truthful market costs for on-street parking, two, spend generated income to profit metropolis, and three take away off-street parking necessities.

In distinction the Indian resolution, to date, has been: free on-street parking, and expensive to assemble, keep and use off-street multilevel pay-and-park mannequin of parking. The result’s a catastrophe – excessive demand without cost on-street parking whereas pay and park areas keep unused. It’s time to exit the vicious ‘parking paradox’.


On July 22, 2021, on a writ petition by my buddy Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthil Kumar Ramamoorthy of the Madras Excessive Court docket restrained the Tamil Nadu authorities from shopping for buses until they had been disabled-friendly. Even to this point, Chennai stays non-compliant to the excessive court docket dictates.

However that is simply one of many many points plaguing the creaky bus system of Chennai. The precise variety of buses with Metropolitan Transport Company or MTC and their roadworthiness is an enigma though the MTC web site claims that 3,454 buses carry a median 28.48 lakh passengers/day. In 2010, they carried 55 lakh passengers each day in 2010. The MTC had 3,987 buses in 2016 and every bus each day carried 1,300 folks, the best in India.

For the fleet’s age evaluation, I trusted info elicited by RTI by The Hindu in 2018. “Then solely 674 buses had been underneath 5 years outdated, 1,921 had been between 5 and 10 years outdated, 1,121 10-13-year-old.”

After including 2,000 red-colour buses constructed on truck chassis in 2018, as per the MTC web site, the common age of the three,454 bus-strong fleet is 8.14 years. Whereas four-year-old 2,000 buses with ground top of 4 metre on truck chassis are unusable by youngsters, aged, disabled, and sari-wearing girls, the remaining 1,400 are road-unworthy. Additional, the Car Scrapping Coverage (2021) mandates scrapping of buses which might be eight-year-old or have run 10 lakh km.

What number of buses Chennai wants?

City public transport should present resolution to peak-hour gridlock. The variety of buses will depend on mode share, capability of buses, each day kilometre per bus, common journeys per particular person, trip-length, metropolis measurement and peak hour options.

Singapore, a metropolis state of 4.5 million residents, has 10,000 buses and China’s Shenzhen, with one-fourth inhabitants of proposed Chennai Metropolitan Space, has 20,000 electrical buses.

The Ministry of Housing and City Affairs (MOHUA) benchmark is 60 buses for 1 lakh inhabitants. To fulfill MOHUA norms, as per present Chennai inhabitants, MTC wants 7,000 buses, and to satisfy the mobility wants of Chennai Metropolitan Space, the determine goes as much as 10,000.

Even poorest Chennaite has a proper to handy, protected, comfy, inclusive and inexpensive buses.

Let authorities buy 10,000 AC – low ground Volvo/ Mercedes city buses – ‘Make in India’ or ‘imported’ buses — they may value lower than Rs 1 crore per bus. A metro rail coach prices Rs 10 crore.

However who will bear the price of 10,000 buses at Rs 10,000 crore? The state, who else? In Singapore, the Land Transport Authority, a authorities entity, buys and owns buses and operators SMRT and SBS run them.

Right here is the pathway to get the cash.

One, it had value Rs 23,000 crore to construct a 54 km-long Chennai Metro hall which carries 1.5 lakh folks each day. The price of 10,000 buses shall be 40 per cent of the Metro value and buses will each day carry 50 lakh folks, 33 instances greater than the Metro. ‘It’s economics, silly’.

Two, the Tamil Nadu price range is Rs 3,60,000 crore – the acquisition value for 10,000 buses is tiny 2.77 per cent. It’s no brainer from the place the cash ought to come.

Three, on this 12 months’s price range, Tamil Nadu has decreased ‘social welfare’ allocation by Rs 10,000 crore from final 12 months. Let swanky 10,000 buses be a free social welfare present from the state to Chennaiites – if there’s a will, there’s a approach.

What concerning the working loss?

Time to take a leaf out of Donald Shoup’s books. Enable 60 lakh Chennai autos homeowners to park autos on metropolis roads, cost Rs 100 per automobile per day, which is Rs 2,190 crore yearly. Already 27 per cent Chennai highway size is used without cost parking of autos; quickly, autos will occupy 50 per cent of the highway size. Monetise it.

Make bus service 100 per cent freed from value. It’ll rework mobility. It’ll even be inclusive. Who else can do if not Tamil Nadu, the state that gifted free noon meal in colleges in 1925. Let it present free inclusive bus mobility in 2022.

On the Sluggish Monitor

The Bollywood music ‘Babuji Dheere Chalna’ sung by Geeta Dutt within the movie ‘Aar Paar’ (1954) sums up the troubled journey of Chennai Metro Rail.

Madras didn’t get Metro Rail in Nineties, it was busy setting up a 20-km Chennai Mass Speedy Transit System, nation’s first elevated rail line @ Rs 1,171 crore – accomplished over 20 years, MRTS proved a white elephant.
MRTS was unmitigated catastrophe and died final month when it was determined to merge it with Metro Rail.

In 2006, Jayalalithaa toyed with the concept of toy practice – a 300-km monorail to catapult public transport share in Chennai from 27 to 46 per cent. Then, the longest operational monorail community globally was 28.3 km-long in Osaka, Japan. The challenge, happily, has been placed on maintain.

It was solely in 2009 when Chennai began setting up two-line, 45-km metro rail at snail’s tempo. It was made operational in bits and items over a decade – first 10 km elevated stretch was opened in June 2015, the underground stretch in 2019, and a 9 km extension in 2021.

With 1.5 lakh each day ridership, excessive losses and better debt servicing Chennai Metro stomach, the crash touchdown is imminent.

The Mom of all Maladies

On February 14, 2017, Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy of the Supreme Court docket of India delivering judgment in India’s most high-profile corruption case upheld the trial court docket verdict, sentencing Sasikala, Sudhakaran and J. Ilavarasi to 4 years in jail; with Jayalalithaa lifeless, appeals towards her had been abated.

If Chennai chokes because of haphazard building, the chief conspirator would be the omnipresent corruption – the unholy politician-official-contractor nexus.

Journalist N. Ram in his ebook ‘Why Scams are Right here to Keep: Understanding Political Corruption in India’ writes: “the seed of corruption in Chennai was first sown in late Sixties of Congress rule.”

The integrity of C.N. Annadurai, who turned the Tamil Nadu (then Madras state) chief minister in 1967, was unimpeachable and for 2 years because the CM, earlier than his premature demise, he ran a clear authorities. With Annadurai’s demise, probity died in Tamil Nadu.

On January 31, 1976, M. Karunanidhi authorities was dismissed ostensibly on corruption fees. Justice Sarkaria Fee termed it ‘scientific corruption’ although within the remaining report most of 21 fees had been unsubstantiated. The inspiration for Tamil Nadu’s distinctive model of corruption was laid in MGR’s second time period (1980-1984) – until then MGR was an anti-corruption warrior.

Over many years, the menace of corruption has turn out to be fiercer.

A Loss of life Accelerator?

In July 2017, the Tamil Nadu Meeting received a impolite shock when the state authorities introduced the Chennai Metropolitan Space shall be elevated to eight,878 sq. km, making it nation’s largest city agglomeration.
The choice shall be a demise accelerator for Chennai.

ALSO READ | Infra Vaani | Burning Landfills to Killer Buses to Poisonous Air, Dwelling in Delhi is Capital Punishment

Akhileshwar Sahay is a famous city transport infrastructure skilled and President, advisory providers at BARSYL, a consulting agency. The views expressed on this article are these of the creator and don’t characterize the stand of this publication or the corporate he works with.

Learn all of the Newest Information , Breaking Information and IPL 2022 Stay Updates right here.


Supply hyperlink