North Chennai: Old city desires infra boost, gentrification

North Chennai is at an advantage with relatively cheaper land rates and metro connectivity.

It is a place where the modern city began. But Chennai North, which is known for its huge population of blue-collared workers in the terrain dotted by factories and industries, has remained on the fringes with little development. The massive integrated township programme by SPR Group in the Binny Mills area in Perambur has set the ball rolling with a major thrust on development. The part of the city, which lost out on growth, that was extended towards the South, through realty sector in the past few decades, is looking for a transformation. Moreover, the Chennai Metro Rail from Chennai South (AG DMS) to the constituency area in Washermenpet has propelled the transport system for the area, bringing the North and South closer. Set for a change in demographics — in the backdrop of high-rise buildings and speedy connectivity — the renewed demand for change in terms of infrastructure and opportunities has got louder among the voters. The game-changer of a project has raised questions about the capability of the area to handle the demand for robust infrastructure. However, it has also been a precursor to the kind of development that can be envisaged for the region.

On New Farrance Road, Dadashamakan, is a thickly populated locality. A few metres away from the township, the Muslim neighbourhood is dotted with meat stalls alongside automobile repair shops. Najeeb, a resident who works in a nearby shop, said, “The area has been in the same state for many decades now. What has changed is the number of TASMAC shops; they have been growing in the locality. Alcohol addiction is high among youngsters. We want political parties contesting from here to emphasise on equal job opportunities and educational infrastructure. There is not one good government high school in the area and the one that was functioning closed down recently. If education gets no emphasis, drugs and alcohol will hold sway over youngsters.”

The residents also seek a separate infrastructure plan for the part that has buildings touching each other and encroaching road space. “The narrow roads, that too in poor shape, and spiralling encroachments have ensured that commuting is arduous in the area,” points out Dhivakar Babu, a resident of Royapuram.

The six assembly constituencies comprising North Chennai, namely, Royapuram, Kolathur, RK Nagar, Thiru-Vi-ka Nagar, Thiruvottiyur and Perambur see a fight between V Kalanidhi of the DMK and the DMDK’s Alagapuram R Mohanraj. DMDK is part of the AIADMK-led alliance. Residents note that they are yet to hear from candidates about a clear roadmap, in terms of infrastructure, for the constituency.

The region, like other parts of the city, has been reeling under problems like water crisis. Taps run dry most times and there are complaints that drinking water gets mixed with sewage. The drainage system has not seen upgrades in years now.

The flipside of the SPR township is that it has depleted the water table, says Raghukumar Choodamani, a resident of Perambur, indicating that not paying attention to basic needs has been hurting residents time and again.

Hari, an auto driver who hails from Royapuram, wonders why no politician has taken note of the issues of people. “It looks like they don’t want us to get anything better. They look at us like animals who should be enclosed in a cage. They think we will break away, if given even little space. They have failed to understand that the needs here are diverse with the population comprising fishermen, to workers to entrepreneurs,” he adds, even as he eyes a nearby high rise-building – a residential complex. “Houses come up but there is little done or planned to meet the demands,” he says. In the by-lanes of VOC Nagar, the call is for job opportunities and better connectivity. Santha, a resident, says, “There is not much development here after Amma’s passing away. We toil hard as labourers and run food stalls to make Rs300-500 a day. If they can think of setting more industries to engage people from this locality, it will be a huge blessing for us.”

Back to the neighbourhood of Dadashamakan, amid the row of shops, one cannot miss the salons for men. Nadeem, a resident of the area, says, “We are at a time when grooming and looks matter. So, you will find a number of salons for men, while there are a few on the other side of the street for women.” He added that the salons are the lower-end ones and big names do not have franchisees in the area. “We have to go sometimes, as far as Kelly’s for some brands. However, here the lower ends really work well for youngsters like me, whose work profile has a lot to do with how one appears. I have to meet people daily as an office assistant,” he says, indicating the aspirations of a section which is looking at ways to improve its living standards.

Real-estate developers reckon that the expansion can no longer be ignored. Ajit Chordia, president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI)-Tamil Nadu, says the North has all the right ingredients for expansion. With the Chennai Metro Rail reaching the place, the area around the corridor is bound to see development. “That is a big boost according to us. Followed by two other factors that will propel real estate in the area. There are large vacant lands of factories that have moved out. This offers larger scope for real estate development. There will also be growth as more schools and hospitals are coming up. The other factor is the availability of land at a relatively cheaper cost in the metro corridor. It won’t be a surprise to see IT companies here because almost 30 per cent of their workforce in the city hails from this part of the city,” he said.

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