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After rain havoc 'Smart City' Chennai reels under politics

By Shine Jacob
November 23, 2021 09:00 IST
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Chennai is one of the cities where works have been completed for almost 62 per cent of the money lined up -- Rs 599 crore of the Rs 959 crore has been utilised so far. Despite this, there was no respite for the people in the city this time either, with North Chennai being the worst affected, reports Shine Jacob.

IMAGE: Most streets in Chennai were water-logged in the recent downpour and people had a harrowing time getting to their destinations. Photograph: PTI Photo

In a reprise of the 2015 situation, a heavy spell of rain and subsequent waterlogging created havoc in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu last week. What followed was politics.

 

An exchange took place between Chief Minister M K Stalin and AIADMK leaders O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami, both former chief ministers, on the implementation of Smart City projects in the state.

The trigger was a Madras high court observation: "For half the year we are made to cry for water and for another half we are made to die in water."

Leading relief work in the city, Stalin alleged the previous government, led by the AIADMK, indulged in financial wrongdoing -- "taking commission" and "committing scams" -- in the Centre’s Smart City project, which caused the deluge.

Stating that the government will conduct an inquiry on where the money for the ambitious scheme had gone and mentioning former municipal administration minister S P Velumani, Stalin told the media: "There was a Smart City scheme, for which the AIADMK collected several crores. What did they do with the money? It was Velumani who received commissions and did nothing on the ground. We will probe that and take appropriate action."

Tamil Nadu has 11 cities -- Chennai, Coimbatore, Erode, Madurai, Salem, Thanjavur, Thoothukudi, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Tiruppur, and Vellore -- coming under the Smart City mission, conceptualised in June 2015.

Based on the latest data, around Rs 17,590 crore has been lined up for 624 projects, spread across these cities. Of this, works worth Rs 4,143 crore have been completed; those for Rs 13,114 crore are in the order stage; and those for Rs 333-crore are in the tendering stage.

Interestingly, Chennai is one of the cities where works have been completed for almost 62 per cent of the money lined up -- Rs 599 crore of the Rs 959 crore has been utilised so far. Despite this, there was no respite for the people in the city this time either, with North Chennai being the worst affected.

Panneerselvam and Palaniswami blamed the state government for lack of planning ahead of the monsoon and untimely works.

BJP Spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy told Business Standard: "It was a failure of the government machinery that led to waterlogging. A large chunk of watercourses were not desilted. Immediately before the rain, over 125 engineers of the Chennai Corporation were transferred and those who replaced them did not know where the water would stagnate, and it resulted in waterlogging.

He said the government should come up with proof if it thought there was corruption in the Smart City project.

However, the current spell of rain was nowhere close to that in 2015, when 470 people and nearly 100,000 farm animals died, and crops in over 380,000 hectares of the state were damaged. So far, the rain has claimed 14 lives in the state.

Against the Rs 15,000-crore loss to industry in 2015, this time the damage has been estimated at Rs 1,700 crore (largely small and medium enterprises), based on the data shared by the Hindustan Chamber of Commerce. Thirupathy said the state government did not pay premiums for crop insurance and it might lead to a heavy loss for farmers in the state.

"Around 1 million acres (1 acre = 43,560 square feet) of paddy fields were inundated and almost 50 per cent of this was in the Cauvery Delta region. We want the government to compensate us for the losses we have suffered," said T Subbu, leader of the Tamil Nadu Farmers Association.

From 2018-19 to 2020-21, flood-related incidents resulted in 201 people and 23,643 farm animals dying, damage to 580,032 houses/huts, and 585,000 hectares of crops getting inundated. Though a final assessment is yet to be out, political experts indicate the damage this time was only a fraction compared to the average in the past three years.

While Stalin has been supervising relief work right from day one, the divide in the opposition was evident with Panneerselvam and Palaniswami doing their jobs separately. Tamil Nadu BJP President K Annamalai was also widely criticised for staging a photo-op while the people of Chennai were suffering.

No matter what the allegations are, the plight of the residents in Chennai may continue during the next rainy season too if the authorities do not act.

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Shine Jacob in Chennai
Source: source
 
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