Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 12, October 1-15, 2012
'Help the people, shift the capital'
By P. Sabanayagam, IAS [RTD], Former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu

Madras, now called Chennai, has been the focal centre of administration for the last three centuries and more. Consequently, there has been a steady flow of people from all directions to Chennai. In recent decades, on account of commendable development, be it economic, social, commercial, etc, the flow of people to Chennai has increased at a higher rate than ever before and includes people not only from the districts, but also from neighbouring States and from the northern regions of India. The population of Chennai within Corporation limits now runs into several millions. The density of the population, say, within a 10-km radius of the Government Secretariat is particularly high – consequently problems faced by the people – be they drinking water, garbage accumulation, sewage and drainage blocks, traffic congestion, accidents, etc – are increasing.

Action is being taken by the Government – desalination plants to provide drinking water, clearing garbage, etc, metro and mono rail for people to travel comfortably and quickly, and so forth. However the fact remains that the inflow of people is unabated. A McKinsey report says, "While India's cities continue to generate growth they fall short of delivering a basic standard of living to their residents across all major quality of life indicators." Hence, apart from trying to solve the above mentioned problems, which will continue to grow, is it not necessary to see if the inflow of people to Chennai, which is the main cause of the problems, can be reduced and thereby control density?

Chennai is the capital of the State and, therefore, the Legislature, the High Court and some Subordinate Courts, and all State Executive Departments are located here. Commercial and financial activity is concentrated in Chennai. Apart from those working in these offices and, therefore, having to live in Chennai and suburbs, all those in Tamil Nadu having to do businesses with these offices have to come to Chennai and, in the process, face several problems.

Before re-organisation of the States in mid-1950s, Madras that is now Chennai was the capital of Madras Presidency which included eight Telugu-speaking districts in the north and two districts on the west coast, namely Malabar and South Kanara. Once reorganisation took place in 1952, Madras continued to remain the capital of Tamil Nadu. But while Andhra is only 40 miles from Chennai, the distance of southern districts of Tamil Nadu is upto 500 miles from Chennai! Hence, logistically, the capital being in Chennai is not right. Therefore, from the standpoint of logistics as well as on account of more important problems faced by the people of Chennai, would not the need for shifting the capital from Chennai be meaningful and indisputable?

In 1974 or so, I had led a team for discussions with the Planning Commission in Delhi and had a separate meeting with P N Haksar I.C.S., Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission. My deep concern then was the severe drinking water shortage, as the monsoon had failed. Aware of the steady increase in the density of Chennai's population, there was no doubt that whenever the monsoon fails the drinking water situation will be critical. It therefore occurred to me why not shift the capital from Chennai to Tiruchi where the Cauvery River is perennial and also where large tracts of dry land towards Pudukottai would be available for development. When I proposed this, Haksar was most receptive and he said the Planning Commission would allot around Rs. 7000 crore over a period of 3-5 years for setting up the capital at Tiruchi.

On return to Madras, I informed the Government, but no action was taken. Fortuna-tely, in 1982 or so, when M.G. Ramachandran was Chief Minister, he publicly declared that the Capital would be shifted from Madras to Tiruchi. Unfortunately action was not taken.

Today, the overall situation in Chennai in regard to what has been mentioned above is even more deplorable – poor people, particularly those living in lanes, slums etc., are suffering – drinking water scarcity, environment-related diseases, increasing traffic-related accidents, etc.

To help the people there seems to be no alternative but to shift the capital – the Legislature, the Secretariat and all heads of Executive Departments, the High Court, State and Public Sector Corporations, etc. This would reduce the flow of immigrants and population density.

Once this bold decision is taken, a proper project has to be prepared and funds allocated from the Centre, lands acquired and overall development commenced. All this will take several years. The shifting of the offices can be done gradually. Therefore, should not the decision to shift the capital to Tiruchi be taken now?

Please click here to support the Heritage Act

In this Issue

'Help the people, shift the capital'
The Bulkley Tomb resurfaces
If Bengaluru can do it, why can't we?
Shaking up the City's Councillors
The emu euphoria
A builder of Modern India
A Winter's Tale
Least leprosy, most hospital facilities
Seven women & an author
A husband, other animals and a champ

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary

Download PDF

Back to Archives

Back to current issue...