A case for shifting the state capital from Chennai

GOVERNANCE DEBATE

Congestion is one of the reasons the capital should be shifted from Chennai to make way for development in other cities. Pic: Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY:SA 4.0)

The last few weeks have seen a renewed debate on whether the State needs a new capital. This is of course one of those topics that are periodically dusted, discussed and then put back on the shelf. But nevertheless, it is a matter that merits attention, especially in the present circumstances.

It must however be pointed out here that after having been aired, all talk on this has died out for now, but we never know as to what can take focus, especially with state assembly elections due next year.

Concentration of development

The ongoing COVID crisis has shown that congestion is one of the chief causes for the spread of the disease. There can be no denying that Chennai is a densely-packed city. Concentrating further development in the same area therefore makes no sense.

If there is to be progress of the same kind in other parts of the State, a new capital may be the best way to go about it. As was recently said by M G Devasahayam, a retired IAS officer, the State needs a counter magnet to Chennai.

A decades-old idea

The topic, as we said, is not new. The late M G Ramachandran first raised it in 1980 and indicated that his preference was for locating the new capital between Trichy and Thanjavur, though he opined that Madurai could also be an alternative. The DMK trashed the idea which was rather surprising given that it’s then leader M Karunanidhi was from Thirukuvalai, not far from Thanjavur.

Earlier in this millennium, the late J Jayalalithaa brought up the subject once again and said the new capital would be near Mamallapuram. This was not a great plan given that it would merely extend Chennai and add to the woes of congestion. Happily, that idea was not proceeded with.  Now it appears Madurai and Trichy are once again the contenders.

Madurai and Trichy as contenders

In terms of political sentiment, both towns are good choices, they have been important centres in Tamil history. They are also relatively centrally located within the State unlike Chennai which is in the northernmost tip.

It must be recalled here that Chennai or Madras as it was then made perfect sense as a capital in colonial times, located as it was centrally in a Presidency that extended all the way to Odisha. Developments since the 1930s have made Chennai a very distant capital for much of Tamil Nadu.

Factors to consider

There are however several crucial factors that need to be taken into account if the shift is being considered seriously. Firstly, the Trichy Thanjavur belt is an agricultural heartland and the taking over of farms for the construction of a capital needs to be avoided. We have seen that this can be a political hot potato especially if regimes change while the work is in progress. The examples of Singur in Bengal and Amaravati in Andhra are fresh in our minds.

The managing of the environmental impact is the second major aspect – what will happen to these places when a huge population suddenly descends on them? Will we be transferring the same water crisis that Chennai faces to the new capital?

Thirdly, can we consider the new centre to be an administrative capital alone and not encourage industries also to move? In the USA, most States have clearly separated the commercial capital from the administrative and this has ensured very good management. One of the chief reasons as to why Delhi degenerated in the last few decades has been the way it has industrialised. There was no reason for that city to be burdened with this and results are there for all to see.

If the above aspects are taken into consideration before a decision is made, we see no reason why a shift of capital should not be encouraged.

[This story was first published on the author’s blog and has been republished with permission. The original article can be found here.]


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About V Sriram 21 Articles
V Sriram is an entrepreneur, columnist, music historian and heritage activist who is known for his books on the history of Chennai, Carnatic music and Chennai theatre. He is also known for his blog on Chennai heritage, and is the Editor of Madras Musings.

5 Comments

  1. Shifting to Madurai will offer a lot of benefit to all. Plus, south which starves from industrial growth will grow. Also the growth can be planned and implemented by us, it will not be similar to the earlier British-designed Madras, which was suited to their comfort.

  2. More centres have to be developed and to reduce the requirements for people to go to Chennai for approvals. Each district should be given powers to decide on their development.Only clear set of rules to be formulated approved and widely publicized. Thus the fascination for chennai will automatically reduce and a more wide spread developmental approach will take place.

    • Extending Chennai would be the good choices, nothing can able replace city which has grown well for 100 years.
      We can make some other part of Tamil Nadu nearer to Chennai which has ports and airports as secondary capital of Tamil Nadu.

  3. Trichy will be the ideal place. People should understand, cauvery Delta starts after trichy. More than 70% of district don’t fall under delta irrigation and they like other districts depends on Well and rain. Trichy is centrally located, with strong existing educational and industrial base which the new capital plan cab help expand. trichy can be an another major city. This will improve trichy airport that will attract lots of service sector industries. Trichy is one of the few city in Tamil Nadu without major drinking water issues. Madurai is too far down south with major water crisis. City has narrow roads and lacks the fundamental to be a major economical hub.

  4. The shift in capital will do a lot of good. Chennai, it is true, is bursting at the seams. As a longtime resident, I long for festivals like Pongal, Diwali and Christmas, when most of the rural population, which resides here for work, goes back to their native towns and villages. That is when Chennai becomes more peaceful and calm. The air is purer, traffic lesser and shops are not crowded 24/7. Meanwhile, the shifting will also lend a balanced development and growth to other regions of the State. I heartily welcome such a move.

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