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Vol. XXVII No. 2, May 1-15, 2017

All in beauty’s name!

(By A Special Correspondent)

Chennai residents will be happy to hear once again that, like the Cooum River, the Adyar River is to get a make-over with riverfront development, plugging of sewage outfalls, modular sewage plants, walkways and cycle tracks. The project report “has been readied”, we are told. Particularly heartening is the assurance that encroachments of the river banks at 27 locations will be removed. Promises of riverfront projects on the Adyar and the Cooum have been made in the past and thousands of crores have been received for this purpose from 1968. But there is very little visible evidence of execution of any plan. Benefits of past piecemeal attempts have lasted for a while and returned to old ways for want of strictly supervised back-up rigour in upkeep and maintenance. At best, we have seen signs of improvements in bits and pieces here and there devoid of totality and a “here-it-is-ready-to-use” kind of delivery which alone makes a difference to citizens’ lives.

The latest announcement could have given details of firm start and finish dates. Diagrammatical depiction of the scope of work would have reinforced conviction that the project is an imminent reality and not just a likely occurrence sometime in the misty future. The two riverfronts present unique scope to enhance Chennai’s image as a beautiful, citizen-friendly City.

Sewerage plants along the rivers working below efficiency, or not at all, have been discharging untreated waste into the rivers, reducing them into big sewers. Unless this source of contamination and misuse of the waterways is permanently plugged and kept that way all the time, whatever it costs, the effort and investment on riverfronts would only create a temporary optical effect and make no impact on our city’s environment and beauty.

Execution left to bureaucracy, without inputs from architects and environment specialists, tends to aim at “completion” as a formality and ritual. Design aesthetics and consideration for impact on surrounding life and activities are often overlooked. An example is the Chennai Corporation’s project to decorate a stretch below the Cathedral Road-Radhakrishnan Salai flyover with a plaza-cum-park for walkers, in granite and marble. It’s reported to be spending much more than what is made available for infrastructure and equipment for its schools and primary health centres. A walker’s path at this busy section right opposite the Music Academy and the girls’ school on the other side seems out of place. This is an example, we are afraid, of inadequate thinking and wrong priority. Often, when logic is not visible, it might be there but hidden. You cannot, therefore, blame the popular perception that this bit of window dressing and meaningless beautification is only meant to catch the sight of the VIP traffic that often passes through this stretch.

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