A recent house-hunting trip to Chennai took me to fast-developing outskirts – Padur, Siruseri, Medavakkam, Guduvanchery, Mogapair and beyond. They provide the addresses for upscale residential clusters that are being developed by real estate tycoons such as the Akshayas, Mantris, DLF, SIS , L &T and the Hiranandanis. They talk, not just in terms of floor-space, rooms and tallness of structures, but of life style, landscaping, and in-house amenities such as clubhouse, air-conditioned gym, swimpool on terrace , piped gas supply , garbage chute and WiFi enabled Net access. I even found an apartments complex with plans for a helipad on top of every residential tower. They want to transpose to Urappakkam and Siruseri the ‘gated community’ enclaves from San Francisco and LA.
Snag is that the areas where these high-end lifestyle dwellings are coming up are decades behind the poorest of localities in a US city in terms of basic infrastructure, be it water and power supply, public hygine and transport connectivity. At Medavakkam and Pallikarani you drive through garbage dumps lining the main street to access plush apartment blocks under construction. Velacherry and Mogapair, at the other end of the city get waterlogged after a sharp shower. Bumpy road and waterlogging are things about which developers say they can’t do much. They come under the jurisdiction of the local panchayat, municipality or whatever. Local authorities that give plan approval for building fancy residential blocks incorporating French, Roman and other exotic architectural features would not let developers improve approach roads, without proper permission (read currency persuasion) from a chain of authorities, from the panchayat and local councillor to the district officials. A developer in Mogapair admitted that they are counting on the 2011 elections to get things moving on the road improvement front.
Drinking water appeared an issue everywhere, except Urappakkam where they source water from wells no more than 30ft deep. Elsewhere apartment owners have to pay for, among other facilities, a water purification plant. Residents along the Old Mamallapurum Road (OMR) are believed to be facing problems in supply of cylindered gas. Replacement of cyclinders, they say, takes weeks after booking. It is said a lone gas distributor based in Adyar has to take care of ever increasing demand from growing residential stretch along OMR upto to Siruseri.
SIS Safaa in Urapakkam is enterprising enough to provide for piped gas supply to apartments through an embedded gas tank to be recharged by Bharat Petroleum. Apartment owners pay metered gas charges, as they do for electricity consumption. These builders have also factored in a garbage chute for swift and efficient waste disposal. They talk of rainwater harvesting for feeding the green space and Wifi enabled Internet access to individual apartments. I didn’t hear any developer mention solar panels and and rooftop wind turbines. One would have thought that those building for the future would factor in these features. L&T, building a sprawling residential complex close to the IT Park, has space enough to think of renewable energy backup.
Those aping real-estate developers in the West ought to go the whole hog. For instance I found in San Francisco a highrise residential cluster runs free shuttles to the city centre for the benefit of residents. This is something that could be emulated by Chennai builders who are into estate maintenance. An in-house shuttle service to the nearest rail/bus terminal , at nominal charges , can be put in place with a club-up of two or more developers in a given vicinity.
Monorail network can be another option for connectivity of emerging residential localities with the nearest metro and suburban rail station, if only real-estate developers would adopt a consortum approach. Monorail can run through residential blocks ; cut across congested localities en-route where not much rail or road space is available. A Malaysia-based company, building a monorail network in Mumbai, is reported to have made a presentation to the authorities in Chennai. Real eastate developers could expore partnership possibilities with the Malaysian company for monorail networking in Chennai’s growth areas. Far from being competitive, monorail system can be devised to be the spokes and limbs to support metro rail connectivity.