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Chennai is seen by many across the country as a safe, modern, accessible and globally-connected metropolitan city, although the younger working population might view it as too straight-laced and falling behind Bengaluru in winning cosmopolitan credentials.
Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiagarajan has acknowledged some of these perception challenges earlier and favoured measures to liberalise the urban environment to attract more new-age workers to Chennai, who would innovate and grow the city. “While Bengaluru and Hyderabad have been better at drawing talent, our time is now,” he told a conference in the city on March 25.
This year’s Tamil Nadu budget devoted considerable attention to physical infrastructure for Chennai, although it does not offer many features aimed at drawing talent among younger tech workers. To some observers, the brick-and-mortar focus on flyovers and roads is excessively biased towards dominant and visible structures that have little salience beyond being concrete landmarks.
One major area for revenue reform, which is extraction of higher parking fees from motorists who enjoy free parking on many public roads in the city, found no mention in the budget
The single top budget feature this year is a new four-lane elevated flyover on Anna Salai from Teynampet to Saidapet, to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 621 crore in the coming year. “The flyover constructed over the Chennai Metro Rail tunnels, in consultation with international engineering experts, will be a modern engineering marvel,” the Minister said. It will improve road safety and ease traffic congestion in several major junctions, he added.
This expensive plan is unusual, as the original objective of placing a high capacity Metro Rail network under Anna Salai was to attract more public transport riders and reduce overhead road traffic. That would have meant levying a congestion fee on cars using Anna Salai, using non-contact technologies such as RFID and CCTV, on the lines of Singapore or London. On the other hand, the current budget promises an additional road layer to aid owners of private vehicles, involving considerable expenditure that will be charged to the general population. Mr Thiaga Rajan could still think of funding this plan exclusively through a levy on car and two-wheeler owners in Chennai as a special tax.
‘Singara’ North Chennai
Other marquee announcements this year include a ‘Vada Chennai Valarchi Thittam’ for North Chennai, to be implemented at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore over the next three years, to “identify and address the infrastructure deficit and gaps in development,” in what is arguably the most neglected segment of urban Tamil Nadu. The scheme is to be implemented by “converging the funds of Chennai Metropolitan Development Agency with the ongoing schemes.”
A new multi-speciality block, nurses training school and hostel will be constructed in North Chennai’s Stanley Hospital. Cost: Rs.147 crore.
Mr Thiaga Rajan expressed once again the State government’s intent to monetise its valuable land properties held in the transport sector. In the first phase, MTC bus depots at Vadapalani, Thiruvanmiyur and Vyasarpadi are to be developed with an investment of a staggering Rs 1,600 crore. In the second phase, bus depots at Tambaram, Tiruvottiyur and Saidapet are to be exploited at an investment of Rs 1,347 crore. It is unclear what areas are covered by the massive planned investments or how they are to be recovered.
One major area for revenue reform, which is extraction of higher parking fees from motorists who enjoy free parking on many public roads in the city, found no mention in the budget. Creating easily accessible and clean parking areas can augment revenue, as this author pointed out in an earlier article on Inmathi.
The Finance Minister promised allocations of Rs 1,847 crore for the Chennai Peripheral Ring Road Project and Rs.1,500 crore for the Chennai-Kanniyakumari Industrial Corridor Project.
Other marquee announcements this year include a ‘Vada Chennai Valarchi Thittam’ for North Chennai, to be implemented at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore over the next three years, to “identify and address the infrastructure deficit and gaps in development,” in what is arguably the most neglected segment of urban Tamil Nadu
Flood of funds
A year earlier, in 2022, Mr Thiaga Rajan had repeatedly referred to the horrors of the monsoon flood of 2021 spilling over into early 2022. He expressed the resolve in the budget that it would come to grips with the problem. In the current budget, he said Chief Minister M K Stalin had “adroitly handled the second wave of Covid, major floods in Chennai and severe financial stress.”
The outlays for 2023 mentioned long-term flood mitigation work undertaken at Rs 184 crore in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Cuddalore districts, of which nine projects had been completed and two were in progress. “During the current year, 12 flood mitigation works have been undertaken in Chennai, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Thiruvallur districts at a total cost of Rs.434 crore,” the Minister said.
Another long-running saga in Chennai, the restoration of the Adyar river, was renewed again. The polluted Adyar river, which hosts some boating enthusiasts in the Boat Club stretch, is to be restored along 44 km, involving prevention of sewage outfalls and construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). Recreational riverside facilities – parks, green walkways, open air gymnasia and quality cafeteria – are to be built. All this would cost about Rs.1,500 crore and would be done in PPP mode.
New public toilets are back in policy reckoning after Swachh Bharat toilets went to seed. Now, Rs 430 crore in PPP mode would be spent, for refurbishing, operating and maintaining toilets in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) area, before considering their extension to other Municipal Corporations. Tambaram and Avadi are also Corporations in the expanded Chennai Metropolitan Area.
The plan for CMDA to develop 30 acres of land at Island Grounds with “modern urban amenities such as urban plaza, exhibition pavilions, landscaping, open air theatre and food courts at a cost of Rs 50 crore,” is another Chennai-focused highlight, besides a move to honour Tamil martyrs Thalamuthu and Natarajan through a memorial in the city. In an earlier regime, Mr Karunanidhi named the new CMDA building at Egmore after Thalamuthu and Natarajan.
The first edition of the Chennai International Book Fair in January 2023 with 24 countries participating and 355 MoUs signed was cited as one more accomplishment, besides the International Chess Olympiad and the competitions for the Chief Minister’s Trophy held across the State.
Maintaining the momentum on sports, the CMDA would set up a Global Sports City in Chennai. Jawaharlal Nehru Outdoor Stadium would be equipped with modern sports facilities at Rs 25 crore.
The plan to help sanitary workers become entrepreneurs and procure modern machinery with governmental assistance made smaller waves, although it is a major initiative against manual scavenging,
New public toilets are back in policy reckoning after Swachh Bharat toilets went to seed. Now, Rs 430 crore in PPP mode would be spent, for refurbishing, operating and maintaining toilets
Needed: outcome budget
In 2022, Mr. Thiaga Rajan had said that Kattupakkam junction, the meeting point of arterial roads linking Chennai, Chittoor and Bengaluru, the Mount – Poonamallee and Avadi – Poonamallee roads, and the Kunrathur – Pallavaram Road, was being taken up for a major overhaul.
To alleviate congestion, a grade separator with elevated rotary would be constructed at the Kattupakkam junction at Rs 322 crore. “As the first step, a detailed project report would be prepared this year,” the Minister had promised in 2022.
Similarly, to decongest the increasing traffic on the East Coast Road, “it is necessary to widen the four-lane road up to Akkarai as a six-lane road. The sanction for widening the Thiruvanmiyur, Kottivakkam and Palavakkam stretches has already been granted. The remaining stretches covering Neelangarai, Injambakkam and Sholinganallur villages will be widened to six-lane at a cost of Rs.135 crore,” last year’s budget said.
It is essential for the Tamil Nadu Budget to present an outcome budget for the past, along with the plans for the coming year, because there is no insight into how far these past goals and outlays have advanced.
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