On September 12th, the Tamil Nadu government passed a government order formalising the formation of the Tambaram Corporation, upgrading the municipalities of Pallavaram,Sembakkam, Pammal, and Anakaputhur, and neighbouring town panchayats like Madambakkam,Thiruneermalai, Perungalathur, Chitlapakkam and Peerkankaranai.
Municipalities and Town Panchayats have lesser autonomy as they work with the district administrations for carrying out various civic works while Corporations have greater freedom in decision making. The ability to raise funds through borrowings and by working with funding agencies, including international agencies, are an advantage enjoyed by Corporations.
The creation of the Tambaram Corporation has, however, evoked mixed reactions from residents of the various erstwhile municipalities and town panchayats that are to be merged to form what would be the third Corporation in Chennai district. While residents in these areas uniformly seek better civic amenities and management of basic needs, residents of areas that are comparatively better developed would have liked to see a merger with the Chennai Corporation. Meanwhile, residents of underserved areas appear content with a merger with Tambaram Corporation.
Case for creation of Tambaram Corporation
Residents of Chitlapakkam town panchayat which will be part of the Tambaram Corporation have largely welcomed the move to create the Tambaram Corporation and their merger. They point to the civic woes faced by the residents over many years.
The experience of the residents in getting a viable storm water drain network and their maintenance was pointed out as an example. “During the 2015 floods, since the stormwater drains were not maintained or upgraded, we suffered heavy flooding across the area. All the lakes were filled with sewage. This could have been avoided if our pleas had been heard, but we were told repeatedly that as a town panchayat there was not enough funds to carry out such major civic works,” says Dayanand Krishan, President of Pradeep and Karthik Avenue, Chitlapakkam. Schemes ranging from lake desilting, improving groundwater, waste management and even street lights have all been stalled for want of funds or man power.
Residents now hope that the creation of the Tambaram Corporation will open up new funding avenues for administrators that could be tapped into to provide much needed upgradation to the area. Dayanand points out that as part of a Corporation, they would now have access to schemes under the Smart Cities mission and AMRUT for urban projects.The lack of manpower had also long been cited as a reason for pending civic works and basic operations such as waste management. With the status of a Corporation, such issues could be solved with greater power to raise funds.
Tambaram Corporation will also have the creation of a dumpsite that can be used by the merged areas where instead of creation of a landfill like in Chennai we can start from scratch with sustainable waste management.
“The prospect of a merger with Chennai Corporation does not seem as exciting a proposition because we fear that even if we were to be subsumed within the GCC, funds allocation would be prioritised for core areas in the city. Even the smart city funds in Chennai have all been focussed on areas like T Nagar. Getting added to Chennai would not really help our case for securing the basic amenities we lack.”
However, there remains the key prerequisite of appointment of competent authorities at all levels in the newly formed Corporation in order to benefit from such a move. The residents also want a ward delimitation exercise before the local body elections. If the same structure is followed as when Chitlapakkam was a town panchayat then the move would be futile.
Chennai Corporation a better fit?
Not all, however, are equally enthused by the formation of the new Corporation. An opposing view comes from residents of Pallavaram municipality, set to be merged with the newly formed Tambaram Corporation.
“Our municipality already borders the Chennai Corporation limits and we have seen the kind of development that has taken place in areas such as Madipakkam, Chromepet and Ullagaram following their inclusion within the Chennai Corporation. They have world class education facilities, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls and other necessities,” says S M Govindarajan a social activist with People Awareness Center.
Govindarajan points to the cases of Avadi and Ambattur to reinforce his point: Avadi, which acquired Corporation status in 2019, has seen little to no development. In contrast, Ambattur which was merged with the Chennai Corporation, has seen rapid development of infrastructure and creation of jobs.
Pallavaram has a population higher than Tambaram and revenue generation of the municipality is also greater. The area is at par with many places attached to Chennai Corporation and only set to grow, feels Govindarajan. Under these circumstances, it is unclear to many what a merger with the newly formed Tambaram Corporation could achieve.
With almost all basic amenities such as metrowater facilities, drainage and sewerage in place, what residents were hoping for is development at the next level, which, they feel, would be far more likely with inclusion within the jurisdiction of the Chennai Corporation. Chennai Corporation’s power to raise funds, especially their access to international funding through World Bank and other funding organisations, could be particularly beneficial for these areas.
“When the government announces a quantum of Rs 300 crores to rejuvenate lakes in Chennai Corporation, there are hardly any big lakes that are not in the suburban areas such as Pallavaram. Merger with Chennai Corporation will give access to these funds to ensure the water bodies in this area are protected,” adds Govindarajan.
Another major grievance among residents of Pallavaram over the proposed merger with the newly created Tambaram Corporation is that there has been no transparency or public engagement in the process. Despite representations made by many residents associations to the Collector in favour of their merger with GCC, the government order was passed without taking the public into confidence or hearing their opinions and voices.
The residents are now mulling legal action to prevent the merger with the Tambaram Corporation.
Is the merger really a good strategy?
With conflicting opinions from residents of the different areas that are part of the new Tambaram Corporation, how can such a move be made effective and beneficial for all?
Mythreyi Mugundan, Associate, Advocacy and Reforms, at the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy explains the implications of such an upgrade in terms of the process it entails and what it really means for the empowerment of the local body.
Usually, in Tamil Nadu, when a municipality is upgraded to a municipal corporation, the state notifies a separate legislation for the city. Municipalities of Tamil Nadu are governed by the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act, 1920 and each corporation is governed by the city specific municipal corporation act. Typically, these individual city corporation acts are based on the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation Act, 1981.
However, Mythreyi points out, “An analysis of the two municipal legislations undertaken by Janaagraha reveals that by simply adopting the existing legislation, they fail to empower the city governments. Municipal corporations of Tamil Nadu as well are not empowered to adopt the council budget or borrow money without the sanction of the government or appoint the commissioner to the corporation.”
Mythreyi alludes to the example of Avadi as a cautionary tale, where despite the upgrade of its municipality to a Corporation in 2019, the quality of infrastructure and services remained poor. “While it is imperative to upgrade the urban status of such areas, the corporations must also be empowered adequately through institutionalization of reforms and provision of commensurate resources to handle additional responsibilities.”
She adds that even with the creation of a new Corporation, given the rate of urbanization in Chennai, the larger focus should be on establishing a proper governance system for the entire metropolitan area of Chennai, which includes Tambaram and parts of Kancheepuram, to enable integrated and coordinated planning.