A recently concluded survey has rated Chennai 150 out of 221 international cities assessed for the quality of life they provide. While that figure may not seem all that bad (after all, we continue to be a developing nation), what is of concern is that, out of five Indian cities included in this survey, Chennai has been ranked fourth, way below Bangalore (which scored the highest among Indian cities – ranking 139), New Delhi and Mumbai. It is some small consolation that Kolkata scored below Chennai. It just goes to show that all is not well with our metropolis and it is not the world-class city that our Government claims it is.
The survey ranked the cities on the basis of 39 factors. In the past years, some of the factors had related to the political and social environment, education and medical facilities and the cultural atmosphere. This year, the study included in its list water, electricity, public transport and other infrastructure facilities and it is generally believed that these have pulled Chennai down.
This should not come as a surprise to those who are concerned with the quality of life in Chennai which is steadily going downhill. For, here are some of the glaring issues, listed for the benefit of those in charge and who hopefully read this.
Civic hygiene – Surely, this cannot be an international city if its garbage problems regularly make them to the headlines. And when the garbage is collected, it is done in such an unscientific manner that it beggars all description. Waste may be segregated at source by a few well-meaning individuals and organisations, but it is invariably mixed in collection and then in disposal. Chennai has no scientific solution in place and it would do well to quickly come up with an answer if it hopes to make it to world standards.
Water – One Kapaleeswarar temple tank does not make the city water-surplus. You just need to see the number of ill-maintained public water-bodies and the rampant encroachment that goes on upon or around most of them to come to the conclusion that Chennai has no water policy to speak of. This has proved a rain-deficient year and, thanks to poor implementation of rainwater harvesting schemes after the initial enthusiasm, we are left with no choice but to look to the sky, water tankers and plastic pots in the coming year.
The public transport – Chennai’s most visible symbol of public transport is the autorickshaw. The attitude of the drivers and their tendency to fleece the public with utter disregard for their meters are now spoken about all over the country. We also have Government- run transport services whose individual arms are not in any way connected with each other. A creaking bus service, notorious for its poor maintenance, rash driving and accidents; a suburban train service that operates on a limb; and an MRTS that is in no way connected with any other transport together complete the picture. The Metro Rail is promising much. How that will pan out will need to be seen.
The waterways – Ask any number of outsiders and they will tell you that they know when they are entering Chennai thanks to the odour from the three waterways that crisscross the city. There are lesser canals as well, all in the same condition as the first three. These could be harnessed for some transport if maintained well. But with no visible results after several crores of rupees have been spent, it is a sad state of affairs.
Noise pollution, traffic indiscipline, lack of maintenance of walking areas – These are endemic to all Indian cities and Chennai perhaps ranks no worse than the others. But if the aim is to be an international city, does it not have to rise above these bottlenecks? Where are the concrete and planned efforts towards their improvement? On the other hand, we appear to be sliding in the opposite direction. Political rallies that block traffic, public worship practices blocking roads, and hoardings and cutouts welcoming political leaders are the order of the day. The ban on defacing city walls with posters has more or less been forgotten.
So where are we truly international?
If we are not anywhere near any count, then we need to be concerned about how is this ranking going to affect Chennai. For one, multinationals planning to set up base in India use this study. Secondly, hardship allowances for expatriates are calculated keeping such studies in mind. And so, if we are seriously thinking of marketing ourselves, the power situation notwithstanding, we may as well begin with a serious perusal of this survey.