Beach beautification is almost the first project that any newly elected State Government of Tamil Nadu and for that matter city civic body announces after being sworn into office. Unfortunately, the vision is limited to the Marina Beach and not much beyond. And what vision there is for the Marina is restricted to fountains, re-relaying of the promenade and putting up a granite plaque or two. If all the schemes for Marina beautification had actually been fruitful, we would have a world class beach in our city. This the Marina undoubtedly was till a few decades ago. Now sadly, it would seem it is to be the victim of several ill-advised schemes, all of which are at cross purposes with each other. What then will be the fate of the beach?
Come to think of it, does the Marina really need beautification? It is a gift of nature (with some help from the harbour). All it needs is regulated vending, making sure the sands are free of litter, adequate safety, good lighting and working toilets. All these statues, memorials, fountains (that never work) and multiple commemoration plaques for the most mundane of facilities are meaningless. But try and explain this to our administration.
And now for a list of the various schemes that are afoot. At the top is an allotment of Rs 20 crores made last year to ‘beautify’ the beach. This was after the present Government took over. Earlier in 2019, the High Court gave the Corporation and the police a time frame of six months within which the beach had to become world class. Many schemes were announced. The first of these was to regulate vending by issuing identity cards to those wanting to peddle their wares on the waterfront. Around 900 were issued cards but the standardised carts are yet to be seen. And unregistered vendors continue to merrily proliferate. Then came the much-touted building of a fish market along the Loop Road. It is significant that the fisher folk are themselves against such a construction. They fear that this is one more tactic to take over their space. All over the city there are fish markets that are notoriously bad when it comes to maintenance, and it is open to question whether the proposed structure along the beach will be any better. There is also talk of an elevated road to Adyar. And then let us not forget two more memorials, one just completed and another soon to take off, at the northern end. In the midst of all this, the Metrorail has announced its plans for a multilevel station near the light house. All absolutely necessary no doubt but it is a clear indication of various agencies carrying on without any coordination.
It is high time that the city has something like an Urban Arts Commission to preserve, develop and maintain an aesthetic quality when it comes to city design and layout. The Marina could be an ideal starting point for such a body. Of course, this commission will have to comprise some well-known architects, urban planners and artists who are outside the purview of the Government’s agencies. This advisory body will need to take a look at all plans for the development of public spaces such as the beach and advise the Government of what can be undertaken and what cannot. For instance, the hideous grotto with stone birds and snakes that stands just next to the Triumph of Labour statue would never have been allowed in any right-thinking city. But then we are Chennai.
Lastly, all schemes in the city, whether they be at the beach or elsewhere, fail after a high-profile inauguration. When will we realise that maintenance is also an integral aspect of beautification?