Thursday, November 26, 2009

Anna Main Road - what a price to pay for clean waterways?





It is one of Chennai’s arterial roads – Ashok Pillar Road or now better known as Anna Main Road. It would have actually been a lovely, broad, tree-shaded stretch, extending from the Ashok Pillar to Nesapakkam, past KK Nagar. But reality is different. It is a disgrace that the road named after C. N. Annadurai and passing through areas (KK Nagar and MGR Nagar) named after the present as well as former chief ministers of the state should be in such a sorry state. The scene at the Anna Road-MGR Nagar junction exemplifies all that is wrong with planning and implementation. And it has to do with the Chennai City River Conservation Project (CCRCP).

It was in October 2000 that the Union Environment and Forests Ministry approved the sanction of Rs 490 crore for Chennai Metrowater to prevent the entry of sewage into the city's watercourses — Adyar, Cooum, Buckingham Canal and other drainage courses — by intercepting, diverting and treating sewage (now I understand that the project is worth Rs 1,200 crore or more). In any case, CCRCP was supposed to have been completed by December 2005, but here we are in November 2009 and reporters I have spoken to say that the work that has been going on for ages at the Anna Main Road-MGR Nagar junction has to do with some rectification relating to the project.

Has the project been useful at all? Has the quality of the water in the city’s waterways improved after more than Rs 350 crore was spent on CCRPC? Anna University was given the task of monitoring the quality of water. Has the university come out with any report on this? I am not aware of it. I do know that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had found that the quality of water samples remained the same – in the Otteri Nullah, Buckingham Canal, Adyar and Cooum rivers. Indeed, four years ago, Minister G. K. Vasan and former chief urban planner G. Dattatri had raised questions about whether any tangible benefits had accrued from the project. Other activists were convinced that it had not brought about any substantial change. Today, nobody seems to asking such questions anymore. Or, if they are, they are not being heard. Sadly, mainline newspapers – the city has four now – have not really bothered to cover the story properly by speaking to all the stakeholders and do regular a follow-up.

Talking about improving the quality of the city’s waterways, it was in 1967 while launching the clean Cooum project that Annadurai is reported to have said: “The Cooum will bring Madras city a place for pride like the Thames to London”. Forty-two years have passed and if anything the condition of the Cooum and other rivers have only deteriorated. You could as well call them open sewage drains. And to think that once upon a time people in Chetpet had bathed in the Cooum, and until the late 1960s boats cruised down the Buckingham Canal carrying paddy and hay from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh!

It’s in the midst of all this that the Public Works Department and the Chennai Corporation have jointly proposed an integrated flood management project to be implemented under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). As several other projects of the government, this one too is grandiose - connecting the waterways, lakes and storm-water drains in the city and creating an integrated network. But plans are one thing and implementation is quite another.

They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words and that seeing is believing. Well, here’s a picture or pictures if you like, of Anna Main Road, at the MGR Nagar junction, which has been chaotic even in better times. I had shot the pictures today after the morning rush hour. Nobody really knows what all the digging and implantation of the huge girders are all about but, yes, authoritative sources say it is indeed correction work relating to CCRCP.

In the first picture, notice two MTC buses heading in opposite directions using one side of the road because that is all the space they have. Notice the senior citizen (extreme left) atop a mound trying to cross the road. The second is a close-up of a huge mound with a lamppost lying across even as a hoarding in the background seems to suggest that all is well with the world. The third is not just a close shot of the girders. Notice the woman in a blue sari crossing the road using one of the girders as a platform. And even as life goes on, a new pit is being dug and you can only guess for what.

More on the state of roads in the blogs to follow.

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