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Chennai and Kolkata miss opportunity to grow as Delhi and Mumbai

The non-cooperative relationship with the Centre has been denying Tamil Nadu opportunities to develop on par with Delhi and Mumbai. In 1998, IE presented R Rajagopalan, the then Chairman and Managing Director of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, as the chief guest at the IE Business Excellence Award function. In a brilliant address, Rajagopalan described the spectacular growth recorded by the Delhi and Mumbai Metro telephones in terms of growth in number of lines, revenues and modernisation. 

MTNL was conceived to get the telephone systems in the four metros out of the mammoth Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) which was engaged with the telecom development of the country as a whole. Chennai and Kolkata, with strong leftist inclinations, did not bother to demand that their metros also be part of MTNL. This meant that the bulk of the profits generated by the Chennai Telephones was utilised by BSNL for telecom development across the country. 

In contrast, MTNL utilised the entire huge revenues and profits generated on the development of telecom in the two metros. The result was obvious: in terms of modernisation, installation of state-of-the-art systems and equipment and laying of cables and towers… Delhi and Mumbai recorded growth many times those of Chennai and Kolkata. But the political leadership just did not bother. 

There is a similar unconcern in the development of the Chennai airport.

Under the UPA-1, Praful Patel planned massive modernisation and expansion of the international airports at the metros. After the initial success in building private airports at Bengaluru and Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai airports were privatised. This brought in  humungous investments of over Rs. 10,000 crore each; these were set up in quick time and today compare well with some of the large international airports in terms of capacity, ambiance and facilities. 

Chennai and Kolkata preferred, as usual, to be content with remaining in the public sector IAAI. One just has to have a look at these airports and compare them with the other two airports to see the difference. For the Chennai airport, IAAI had to depend on the defence ministry and the Tamil Nadu government for acquisition of sizeable areas of land. And these were not forthcoming as per schedule. The state gave up acquisition on protest from the affected property owners. The decision to add new facilities for domestic passengers at the northern end and, for international passengers, at the southern end, leaving the existing old buildings intact, proved a handicap. Lack of resources due to escalation forced them to dispense with multi level car parking. Aligning the metro rail system was not factored in early and properly. A huge bridge was built over the Adyar River to extend the second runway running east to west that would facilitate handling larger aircrafts. But this proved a disaster by arresting the flow of the Adyar river, the impact of which was felt grievously during the December 2015 floods. 

In Delhi too, cost escalated. But GMR, the new owner, assisted the prime contractor L&T with the needed clearances and resources in time that helped open the airport in time for the Commonwealth Games. The lack of such cooperation with the prime contractor Consolidated Construction Consortium (CCC) resulted in delays to complete the construction, with serious design deficiencies in erecting conveyor belts, inadequate bonding of the huge glass modules to withstand vibrations of landing and giving up on the walkalator. CCC failed again in the construction of Chennai metro stations and is on the point of bankruptcy. 

In this background, the recent news on expanding the facilities at the airport by reconstructing the old airport sandwiched between the new domestic and international terminals is welcome. I hope the Tamil Nadu government led by Jayalalithaa would render needed assistance and help Chennai evolve as a prestigious airport of international excellence capable of handling 25 million passengers a year. 


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