To those of us who live in Madras that is Chennai year in and year out its faults may be many and seemingly immitigable. But the world appears to think differently. A recent scan of Indian cities by India Today puts Chennai at the top of the chart across various categories, making it the best city in the country, two years running. This comes shortly after a New York Times survey of the top 52 tourist destinations of the world in which Chennai was the only Indian city to be featured. Clearly there is much in Chennai to cherish, but that can be no cause for complacency.
The survey spanned 50 cities of India across eleven parameters – Economy, Transport, Public Services, Housing, Investment, Education, Healthcare, Entertainment, Crime & Safety, Environment and Cleanliness. Chennai has scored well on most counts – barring the obvious few where it needs to do much better – cleanliness, housing, and tourist inflow. What is alarming is the way the city has fallen behind on some of these counts within just one year – on housing it ranks 7, five steps below where it was last year, on cleanliness it does not even make it to the top ten and as for tourist inflow, it has slipped from 2nd position to the 8th. The worst however is the economy growth ranking – it has fallen from 2nd position to 9th.
Some results are surprising – take pedestrian friendliness for instance. The city ranks number one, which probably indicates how bad other metros are on this count. A more careful perusal reveals that this ranking is biased by a pronouncement of the Corporation which is yet to become reality – building footpaths and exclusive ‘no motor vehicle’ zones. To that we would only like to say that if wishes were horses beggars would ride. Yet another similarly biased rating is the one on public services – the city ranks second after Mumbai and this is based on several projects announced by the Corporation but which are yet to take off. And as to how we can rank high on infrastructure with, among other things, “being well connected by air” given the apology of an airport we possess, is a mystery.
That we should have fallen low on housing was only to be expected. Chennai is now suffering from very high real estate prices, which are preventing both housing and industrial investment. In fact, a related study points out that high land prices and the complete failure of the State Government in building land banks for future use will eventually affect the city and the State’s performance and development. A related issue is the fall in business performance or as the survey has it – economy. We had carried an article around six months ago on the poor business initiatives of the Government in terms of attracting business investment. This has resulted in other State Governments coming to our city to canvass investments in their territories. Chennai is clearly in a precarious situation as far as business growth is concerned and the sooner something is done about it the better.
There are, however, some ratings that make you feel proud of being a citizen of Chennai. It is a well-known fact that the Corporation has been doing some great work in the area of education, especially among the aided schools and those that are directly under its control. Over 150,000 students are enrolled in 6,594 schools spread across the city. Some of them have world-class facilities but enrolment of students remains a challenge given the lure and the upmarket image of private schools.
Similarly, Chennai expectedly ranks high on healthcare. There is no denying that we are the medical capital of the country. But what is interesting is that Pune has pipped us to the post when it comes to being numero uno. We, however, rank a close second.
There is every reason to rejoice in this high overall rating. But it also means we cannot be complacent, for other cities are fast catching up. Chennai has to buck up on several counts and, most importantly, translate several of its plans into reality. If that does not happen, next year’s report will not make for good reading.