Explainer: Who administers and provides public services in Chennai?

GOVERNANCE IN CHENNAI

Chennai skyline
Life in Chennai depends on the public services delivered by various agencies. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Urban governance is a complex phenomenon. Apart from the local municipal body, a host of governmental organisations, parastatal bodies and state departments are entrusted with providing public services in Chennai. Their functions define the various aspects of life in the city. From water to power to housing, do you know who is accountable for the governance and delivery of basic services and amenities in Namma Chennai? This explainer talks of the various agencies involved in administration and public service delivery in Chennai.

Municipal administration: The Greater Chennai Corporation

Let’s start with the civic body. The Greater Chennai Corporation, housed in the historic Ripon buildings, looks after the city’s administration and addresses civic issues faced by the residents. Known as the Corporation of Madras when established in 1688, the GCC is the oldest municipal body in India, and second oldest urban civic body in the world after London. 

As per the orders of Sir Josiah Child, the then chairman of the East India Company, a Royal Charter was issued on December 30, 1687, that converted the ‘Town of Fort St. George’ to a Corporation. This included all places within a 10-mile radius from Madras’s administerial epicentre and India’s first English fortress – Fort St. George.

After its inauguration on September 29, 1688, the corporation mostly used to decide over minor cases, levy rates upon the city’s inhabitants for building of schools, a town hall and a jail. The Parliamentary Act of 1792 conferred the new Corporation power to levy municipal taxes in the city. The amended Madras Municipal Corporation Act, 1919 provides the basic statutory authority for the administration now.

Ripon Building housing the Chennai Corporation. Pic: L Vivian Richard/Wikimedia Commons

Administrative set up: As many as nine municipalities, 8 town panchayats and 25 village panchayats have now been brought under the Chennai Corporation limits, raising the city population from 46.81 lakh to 62.2 lakh. In October 2011, the Corporation increased the number of zones within its ambit from ten to fifteen. While eight administrative zones namely Thiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram, Ambattur, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Perungudi and Sholinganallur fall in the city’s extended area, the remaining seven zones are in the old city area. 

The 15 zones encompass 200 wards. Although the Model Nagar Raj Bill (2010) adopted by Tamil Nadu mandates the presence of one ward committee in every ward, only 15 out of 200 wards in Chennai have ward committees. Each of these 15 ward committees represent seven or more wards. Ward committee chairman and zonal officers look after the activities of their respective zones. 

In principle, the city mayor heads the council, which  has 200 councillors, one for each ward. These members elect a mayor and deputy mayor. The Council meets once a month to decide on matters vital to the city’s development and smooth functioning of all the departments. However, Chennai has not had local body elections in the last ten years.

As the mayor’s chair has been vacant since the last mayor Saidai Duraisamy ended his tenure in November 2016, the Corporation Commissioner is entitled to make major decisions until the next council elections.. In the absence of mayors and councillors, special officers appointed by the state government administer civic operations in the city. The newly elected DMK government is expected to hold local body elections by year-end but no dates have been announced yet.

Replacing G Prakash, IAS officer Gagandeep Singh Bedi took charge as the city’s new Corporation Commissioner on May 9, 2021. He served as the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Madurai from 1999 to 2001 and held several other top-rank administrative positions in Tamil Nadu.

Services provided by the GCC: On the GCC website, one can find a host of information on various departments, public projects and the latest notifications. One can also avail services like tax filing, downloading birth and death certificates, book community halls, look for trade licenses,  and apply for tenders.

E-facilities offered during COVID: To ensure easy access to basic amenities during the COVID-19 lockdown, the GCC began providing zone-wise information on vaccination centres, fever camps, screening and sample collection centres, operating grocery shops, fruit and vegetable sellers. It also allows people to book for registered marriage halls operating during the pandemic and travel passes both for foreign and domestic travel.

The civic body has developed a dedicated portal for booking vaccine slots. Half of the slots at every vaccination centre are allocated for booking through this website. 

Working with citizens to solve civic issues: To address public grievances, the Corporation formed residents’ welfare associations in each zone. Every RWA is governed by the TN Societies Registration Act 1975, that mandates a requirement of at least seven people to form an RWA. RWAs in apartments should be registered under the Tamil Nadu Apartment Act and the Societies Registration Act. RWAs have played a vital role in providing first-response help to society members during COVID-19.

The Corporation has also come up with a Public Grievance and Redressal System that allows Chennai’s residents to register complaints on the official website and via phone or form submission addressing the Commissioner.

Solid Waste management: Headed by Superintending Engineer G. Veerappan, the solid waste management department of GCC looks after clearance and management of solid waste from residential areas, industries, beaches, hospitals, construction sites, and other places of commercial activity. Each day, around 5400 metric tonnes of garbage is collected from the city, of which, 2,400–2,600 metric tonnes of waste is dumped daily in Perungudi, and 2,600–2,800 metric tonnes in Kodungaiyur. The GCC has allotted 200 acres in Perungudi and 269 acres in Kodungaiyur for dumping waste.

Handling of bio-medical, electronic, plastic and other hazardous waste is looked after by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

Urban planning and development in Chennai

Spread across 1,189 square kilometres, the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) comprises the city of Chennai, 8 Municipalities, 11 Town Panchayats and 179 Village Panchayats in 10 Panchayat Unions. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) was formed in 1972 under the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act 1971. It is the nodal agency for urban planning, development, city remodeling, public consultation and coordination among various civic bodies of Chennai.

While Tamil Nadu’s minister for housing and urban development S Muthuswamy currently chairs the CMDA, IAS officer Anshul Mishra is CMDA’s member-secretary and chief executive officer.

Housing in Chennai

Like other metros in India, Chennai too has a housing board, formed to cater to the shelter needs of various sections of the population. It monitors and facilitates the use of quality materials in construction and the latest technology, and provides readily-built flats to people under Economically Weaker Section (EWS), Lower Income Group (LIG), Middle Income Group (MIG) and Higher Income Group (HIG), at affordable costs. 

Started in 1947 as a small organisation called the ‘City Improvement Trust’, it was redeveloped into the present-day ‘Tamil Nadu Housing Board’ in 1961. It is a state government-controlled department. However, Chennai is not the only district where TNHB provides services.

Yet another institution that addresses housing needs in the city is the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB). Under the Centre’s ‘Housing for All’ scheme launched in June 2015 for urban areas, state governments can build houses for eligible families measuring upto 30 square metres carpet area with basic civic infrastructure. It supports construction of houses through four verticals: slum redevelopment, credit-linked subsidy scheme, affordable housing through government-private partnership, and monetary assistance to eligible beneficiaries. In Tamil Nadu, the TNSCB acts as the nodal agency for implementation of the ‘Housing for All’ scheme.

Improvement of living standards for urban slum dwellers began in Chennai as early as 1971 with the establishment of TNSCB in September 1970. Currently headed by the Housing Secretary and Chairman Dharmendra Pratap Yadav and supervised by Rural Industries minister T.M Anbarasan, the TNSCB has built nearly 70,000 tenements in Chennai. Under the DMK government that recently came into power, the TNSCB will be rebuilding over 20,000 dilapidated tenements in Chennai, most of which are in MGR Nagar and Vyasarpadi. Plans to build 14-storey complexes to house 560 families are also afoot.

Water Supply in Chennai

Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) is the nodal agency for water supply in the city and it relies primarily on three sources: surface water sources, groundwater and seawater desalination. While surface and groundwater sources provide around 700 million litres of water per day (MLD) during abundant rainfall, desalination plants at Nemmeli and Minjur provide 200 MLD.


Read more: Where does the water in your tap come from?


In 1914, J.W Madeley, special engineer of water and drainage works of Chennai Corporation, introduced piped water supply in the city. Today, the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) supplies water across all households here. Among other functions, the Board must promote or secure the planned development, efficient operation, maintenance and regulation of water supply and sewerage system in the Chennai Metropolitan Area.

It also has to prepare long term plans to meet the future requirements of water supply and sewerage in the Chennai Metropolitan Area, based on estimates of demand, surveys of availability and usage of water and other relevant matters.This also entails periodically reviewing, revising such plans and making them current and relevant.

Apart from ensuring uninterrupted water supply, the CMWSSB also looks after sewerage, promotes rainwater harvesting and implements new technologies to check groundwater contamination and sewage treatment. K N Nehru, the state’s minister of Municipal Administration, Urban and Water Supply chairs the board and IAS officer C Vijayaraj Kumar is the managing director.

Roads in Chennai

The state government’s Highways and Minor Ports department supervises road and port infrastructure in the city. 

Two-wheelers to heavy vehicles — all kinds of road transport ply on the city’s 477 bus route roads (BRR) covering 387 kilometres, which are managed by the GCC. Interior roads that stretch for 5,263 kilometres, 1,292 kilometres of which are built of concrete, are also maintained by the GCC.


Read more: Explainer: How are roads in Chennai laid?


Other government agencies such as the State Highways, National Highways, Tamil Nadu Road Development Company (TNRDC), Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association (IEMA), Guindy, Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association (AIEMA) and Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) too ensure smooth intra-city movement. The TNRDC is currently working on the East Coast Road project that will connect Chennai with Cuddalore through Pondicherry. 

T. Saravanabavanantham, superintending engineer for BRRs currently heads the Corporation’s road department.

Public Transport in Chennai

Bus: Owned by the state government and headed by managing director Anbu Abraham, the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) operates public buses in routes covering 3,929 square kilometres of Chennai. As of July 2021, 3,470 buses ply on the city’s roads. The daily passenger load has dropped from 30.68 lakhs in 2019-20 to 8.29 lakhs currently, in the wake of the pandemic. Of the 3,233 buses run daily, 210 are exclusively for women and children.


Read more: How does MTC decide bus routes in the city?


Rail transport: Commuters in Chennai willing to opt for rail transport have two options to choose from – the Chennai suburban railway and metro rail.

While the suburban rail network is operated by the Chennai division of Southern Railway, the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) is a joint venture of the central and state governments. Planned by Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan, the Chennai Metro began operating in June 2015. It currently runs on two routes – Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount and Wimco Nagar to Chennai International Airport. IAS officer Pradeep Yadav is currently the managing director at CMRL.

Started as early as 1931, the Chennai suburban rail network is the country’s second-largest in terms of route length. Handling a daily passenger load of nearly 17,60,000, it runs on four lines – North, West, South, and the MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System).

The Chennai MRTS is a metropolitan elevated railway line operating between Velachery and Chennai beach. It is the first elevated railway line in India and also the country’s longest elevated corridor spanning 17 km. It is currently a state-owned subsidiary of Indian Railway but is planned to be taken over by CMRL soon.

P Mahesh, the current Divisional Railway Manager for Chennai division of Southern Railway, assumed charge on April 24, 2019.

Power in Chennai

The Department of Energy of the Tamil Nadu government oversees power generation and distribution in the state through various undertakings – Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB), Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation Limited (TANTRANSCO), Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC), Tamil Nadu Development Agency (TNDA), among others. 

TNEB was formed on July 1, 1957 and restructured in 2010 into TNEB Limited that has two subsidiary companies – TANGEDCO and TANTRANSCO. The state government appoints the chairman, managing director and board of directors for these agencies. IAS officer Rajesh Lakhoni is the current chairman and managing director of this government organization.

TANGEDCO generates 15,871.29 megawatts from renewable energy sources. Conventional energy sources provide 16,034.58 megawatts of power to the state, which comes from TANGEDCO owned generating stations, Central Generating Stations (CGS) and Private Power Purchase. TANGEDCO has installed two power plants in Chennai — Ennore and North Chennai thermal power stations. The TANGEDCO runs a 24×7 helpline for consumers to lodge complaints regarding power supply. 

TRANSANCO ensures uninterrupted power supply across the state. It has 986 substations supplying power of 66 to 400 kilovolts, four 765 kilovolts substations and ten 400 kilovolts substations. 

Pollution Control in Chennai

The Tamil Nadu Prevention and Control of Pollution Board was constituted by the state government in 1982 under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Central Act 6 of 1974). While the Board office is headed by the TNPCB Chairman, zonal offices are headed by the joint chief environmental engineers and the 38 district offices are headed by district environmental engineers. A V Venkatachalam is the present chairman of TNPCB.

TNPCB can issue show-cause notices to erring industries or factories for non-compliance with water and air pollution control legislations and standards. It is entitled to take legal action and issue directions for closure, stoppage of power supply, water supply etc. against such companies. The board is also responsible for the safe disposal of hazardous waste and spreading environmental awareness in the state.


Read more: PM2.5 upto four times higher than safe limits in Chennai pockets; where’s the action plan?


Chennai has 38 small and medium-scale industries marked in the red category – industrial sectors having a Pollution Index score of 60 and above.

Ports of Chennai

The largest port along the Bay of Bengal, the Chennai port drives the state’s economic growth. Certified by both ISO and ISPS, this port connects southern India to over 50 international ports. It is one of the few ports in the country having a terminal shunting yard and broad gauge railway lines inside the harbour. It handles huge volumes of cargo regularly, comprised mostly of container, oil and automobile imports and groundnut, granite, and ore exports. The Chennai Port Trust, managed by the state government and chaired by P Raveendran, oversees the daily operations. 

Chennai’s second port is located at Ennore. Run by Kamarajar Port Limited, this corporate port is used less for travel and mostly for handling cargo such as coal, ore and bulk. 

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About Rituparna Palit 2 Articles
Rituparna Palit is an independent journalist. She mostly writes on technology, environment, and the plight of urban and rural poor in India.