Sweeping changes at the helm of affairs in government brings with it sweeping changes in ground realities as well. In the mid-nineties, even though the IT revolution was already well underway, Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, then called Madras, did not sport a presentable or attractive enough look for a capital city. In fact, it was way behind other state capitals and metro cities in terms of the first impression it made. Soon after their victory in the May 1996 elections, then CM M Karunanidhi renamed the city as Chennai and initiated a host of projects under the umbrella of “Singara Chennai”.
The word Singaram in Tamil means beautiful/ornamental/embellished. The objective was to beautify the city, free the roads from the rampant heaps of garbage and foul smell, and enable smooth flow of traffic. That was the first step in the city’s transformation, wherein concerted efforts were undertaken to spruce up the look of Chennai, make the city livable and travel-friendly.
Mega projects in the early days
From the early days of the city till the 1990s, development work on roads, street lighting, pavements for walkers etc was concentrated around Mount Road and other arterial roads. As a result, the interiors of Chennai and suburban areas remained underdeveloped.
There was no structured and scientific method of collection and disposal of garbage generated in residential houses, manufacturing units and service providers. Household garbage was thrown on the roads at will by residents and the tardiness in collection and disposal resulted in heaps piling up in every street. Chennai was notorious for mosquito menace then, the root cause being the accumulated biodegradable waste on roads. It was no wonder then that Chennai was rated as the second dirtiest city in India.
The Corporation on its part was plagued by limited resources, paucity of funds and a helpless bureaucracy.
A Singapore based company was assigned the task of clearing the street garbage. This marked the first step in the making of “Singara Chennai”. Every bin kept on the roads bore the lettering “Singara Chennai,” serving as a nudge to the people to play their part in keeping the city clean. This campaign met with some success. Chennai’s rating in cleanliness showed marked signs of improvement as a result of cooperation by the public.
Among other vital work taken up under the Singara Chennai project was the transformation or beautification of parks. The parks that were in dilapidated condition received a facelift. Regulation of timings and better cleanliness norms ensured more people visited the parks. Separate play areas were introduced for children, better walkways for morning and evening walkers. Greenery increased thanks to the plantation of eye catching flora and public toilet facilities also improved.
Around the same time, construction of several flyovers/grade separators in various places enabled seamless flow of traffic and relief from congestion.
Singara Chennai 1.0 brought an impetus for the development of Chennai and marked an ambitious bid to transform the state capital into a modern, efficient and liveable city.
Singara Chennai 2.0
The new DMK government elected to power in May 2021 has announced a proposal to revive the Singara Chennai project. In the interregnum between the last term of this government and the present term, several projects were taken up, chief among which was the Indian government’s Smart Cities Project. Development works are already afoot in several areas. The pedestrian plaza in Pondy Bazaar is a glittering example. The operation of Chennai Metro both above and below ground has also eased the strain on travel within the city.
Proposals under Singara Chennai 2.0
- Project Blue- A project set to transform the city’s coastline. The city will get beachfronts with a facelift, water sports facilities and an aquarium. The aim is to showcase the city’s vast coastline and improve tourism
- Beautification of subways and flyovers across the city with urban gardens, play areas
- Redevelopment of Anna Nagar Tower Park with a proposal for a Ferris wheel
- Area improvement projects to be undertaken for Guindy & Egmore stations
- Science & Mathematics Parks for children to encourage scientific enquiry and temper
- Heritage landmarks of the such as the Victoria Hall to be renovated on priority
- Creation of an Art District in the city to encourage street art and other forms that showcase local life and culture
- Creation of a pet park, science center and a state-of-the-art multi-sports complex
- Promotion of electric vehicle use
It is said that a developed city is not one where the poor can afford a car but one where the rich travel by public transport. Chennai is aiming to catch up to align itself with the latter.
Close on the heels of a pandemic that crippled movement and made citizens desperate for revival of active lives, the promise of the above development projects is rejuvenating. Chennaiites have reason to look forward to the urban transformation that is set to take place in their city with a keen eye.