Smart City Chennai

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What are we trying to do to make our Chennai city a smart city?

Mr Gagandeep Singh Bedi, IAS, Commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation

The first point I want to touch upon is that our Chennai should look clean and green. The most important aspect in this regard is that our city should be free of garbage. All over the world, garbage is converted to either manure or energy. But we dump garbage and leave it as it is. In the south of Chennai we have the Perungudi garbage dumping yard, where garbage is converted to biomining legacy. We have started to convert this into manure. We have a Special Secretary (Environment) who is taking care of this. We have established six units to convert garbage accumulated over the last 30 years–a height of 10 to 20 feet above ground.
Garbage will be taken to industrial units being set up there, and sieved, to separate plastic and other materials which can be used. The segregated plastic will be compressed into blocks and sent to cement factories in Ariyalur. We have a tie-up with Dalmiya Cements. The compressed plastic will be burnt in the cement factory boilers under Pollution Control Board norms, into energy. The tyre and tin waste will be recycled.
What remains is the inert earth. This will be dumped in low-lying places, under pollution control norms. Our aim is that within the next two to three years, the Perungudi dumping yard should have flat lands without garbage. Our next move will be to convert that into green and clean units.
We want to replicate this in the Kodungaiyur dumping yard too, which has accumulated waste of 30 to 40 years. We are working on a detailed project report (DPR) to convert all that garbage into useful manure in the coming three to four years. This is the first and foremost step that Chennai Corporation is trying in order to make our city a Smart City.
Planting Trees
The second point is making Chennai green. Chennai has green lungs in places like Adyar and Raj Bhavan areas but we generally feel that we should grow more trees in Chennai.
It is our firm conviction that the city corporation alone can never succeed in this mission. What we have been insisting upon is that we should have the involvement of the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in cleaning, and greening up of Chennai. RWAs can plant trees in their own campuses or in all the roads leading to their campuses.
With their own internal money, they can buy saplings, plant them, guard them properly from cattle, and water them. If this becomes a citizens’ movement, Chennai will become greener, right before our own eyes, not after 20 years, but within the next four to five years itself.
The trees that we plant should not be exotic varieties but indigenous trees that can stand ground even if cyclones and other storms cross the city. The trees should grow at least 6 feet high and above. More than money, it is the care that matters and definitely our citizens can take better care in greening up their city rather than the Chennai Corporation, which can take care of the big ticket infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and storm water drains where we spend thousands of crores.
Beautification of Chennai
The third point is that we should make our city beautiful. I am very passionate about the fact that we should all be proud of our city. Singara Chennai 2.0 (Beautiful Chennai) is the pet project of TN government and our Honorable Chief Minister.
When we land up in Chennai and come out of the railway station or airport, we wish our city were as beautiful as any other city in Europe and America or perhaps even like our sister cities of the South like Hyderabad and Bangalore. Why can’t Chennai be as beautiful as the best in the world? Now we find posters put up everywhere on all public places, road dividers, etc. We had a meeting in this regard to make Chennai a poster-free city. We got wholehearted support from the government.
We want to see green roadsides, beautiful fountains on the way, flowers and trees along the medians and all public places looking good. Now on the walls of the public buildings, we are putting up pictures of Tamil Nadu art and culture, planting Bougainvillea and Tacoma trees and other plants along the medians and coming up with a lot of fountains. We are trying to beautify the bridge underpasses too.
Any effort is incomplete without citizens’ participation. I strongly believe that a roadside median can be better developed by the industry or educational institution in the neighbourhood than by the City Corporation.

Any effort is incomplete without citizens’ participation. I strongly believe that a roadside median can be better developed by the industry or educational institution in the neighbourhood than by the City Corporation.

Usage of Data
The fourth aspect is usage of data. I agree that the City Corporation has to become a role model for transparency, and we are looking into a number of aspects.
We are trying to make all our tendering process online, so that there is hardly any intervention of vested interests in the bidding process. The government is committed to this. We want to ensure many services in the hands of the citizens through Namma Chennai mobile app. They can go to the app, click the zone, ward and street and find out how many workers are supposed to come and how many have turned up for the day, how many battery operated vehicles are there, which roads are being laid in the vicinity and so on.
We now issue birth and death certificates online. We are also trying to make the process of building plan approval, within 30 days of submission through an online process. We have partially rolled this out. We shall monitor the process at my/deputy commissioners’ level. If citizens face problems, they can call 1913 and we will take action. The intention is definitely there to bring in transparency. We may not have perfection but we shall surely strive towards it. What is important is that citizens should give feedback on the shortcomings of the corporation.
Revamping Water Bodies
The next point is about the need to maintain our water bodies. There are a number of water bodies within Chennai city which need to be improved and beautified. When I was Secretary of Fisheries, we initiated the improvement of Chetpet lake which had green water all over. Now it has become a beautiful sight for the citizens.
Under the Smart City funds, we are planning to improve a number of other water bodies in the city, including the Villivakkam lake, which is going to be a big star attraction for the citizens. Many other small ponds and lakes within the city which enhance the groundwater level need renovation. We have to desilt them, lay beautiful pathways all around the bunds, so morning walkers can use them, and provide trees on both sides of walkways and open gyms. We have already put up more than 20 such places across the city. In all such cases, we want the citizens to come forward and participate.
Last Journey but not the Least
The last point is the beautification of the city’s crematoria. It may look a little unglamorous but I wish to point out that the last journey of a human being has to be peaceful, not only for the departed but also their relatives. We are striving to ensure that all the crematoria of the city are clean, beautiful and green. A number of organizations are also participating along with the corporation to beautify the crematoria. More than a corporation engineer, a committed organization, an industry or other stakeholders can put their heart and soul into such programmes. If there is demand for one crematorium on a day, citizens who are in need, can check and book another available crematorium which will also be clean and beautiful.
I started from garbage and ended with crematorium. If citizens participate in all these efforts of garbage removal, planting of trees, beautification of the city, cleaning of water bodies, giving feedback on data management and services to the corporation and beautification of the crematoria, we can make our Chennai city, a smart city indeed!

What are we going to do about climate change?

Ms Sheila Sri Prakash, Founder & Chief Architect, Shilpa Architects Planners Designers

We are proud of many things in Chennai–The Madras Terrace, the aroma of the Chennai coffee, the Madras University, the wonderful music season that starts in December after Dashara and goes up to Pongal and our kutcheri (concert) culture, the Kanchipuram silk sarees and of course the Madras Management Association. We have a list of famous lawyers and leaders who adorned Chennai and India–like Kamaraj, Annadurai, R Venkatraman, C Rajagopalachari and others.
Our city is green. We are a very conservative community and we love classical arts. We are sensitive, artistic, able, have leadership qualities, quiet and harmonious and like to live our lives peacefully. This is a wonderful combination which can strike a beautiful balance for us.
We do have problems. We are always short of water because we are in a rain-shadowed area and we depend on the rains in the Western Ghats before it flows into the Bay of Bengal. Our lakes and waterways have to be really efficient to catch all the rain water and give it to us for a year. Over the years, many lakes have disappeared or been encroached upon. Some of them have been filled with garbage.

We need to sensibly and smartly use technology–right from data to Internet of Things, Machine Learning, AI, 3D printing and so on. We are a very resilient society. We will come up with solutions and we will definitely prevail.

Many things have happened midway like the Varda cyclone and December 2015 floods. We have challenges from climate change. Our sea level is slowly rising. What are we going to do about climate change?
We need to sensibly and smartly use technology–right from data to Internet of Things, Machine Learning, AI, 3D printing and so on. We are a very resilient society. We will come up with solutions and we will definitely prevail.

What should we do to tackle these issues?

Dr Jayanthi Murali, Special Secretary (Environment, Climate Change), Tamil Nadu Forest Department

Out of 33 mega cities all over the world, Chennai is the most vulnerable of all. 21 cities are in the low-lying coastal areas and Chennai is one of them. By 2050, 90% of the coastal cities will be hit by the sea level rise. The IPCC’s sixth assessment report AR6 has reinforced the worst fears of climate change. We are also prone to lightning strikes, cyclones, heavy rainfalls, earthquakes and, therefore, risks of tsunami.
We have the maximum number of two-wheelers, which leads to pollution and later to climate change in the long run. In 2019, Chennai was one of the districts in the State which was declared as a hydrological drought district. What should we do to tackle all these? Here is a suggested list:

  • Planting of indigenous fruit bearing species.
  • Having a green barrier with bamboo.
  • Having kitchen gardens over the roof.
  • Introducing mobile nurseries and providing seeds and solutions to the citizens.
  • Proponents of big projects like a mall or a big building must insist on growing trees as part of the project. This condition should be linked to clearances.
  • Growing grass first as bunds for the waterways. In the next stage, planting shrubs and trees. Ensuring that the bunds don’t break off during flooding. Abroad, they have a drain channel system called ‘bioswale.’
  • Taking care of mangroves; mapping fragile ecosystems so that they are not used for any other purpose.
  • Ensuring Coastal Regulatory Zone 2019 notifications are complied with.
  • Planting trees along the ECR and also greening of sand dunes along ECR
  • Scientific mapping of all the wetlands in the city. The slope, drainage and hydrology are the main factors for the wetland. When you do dredging, you should know which side the slope is. Then you will know which side the water will come through, so you can store in the wetland.
  • Identifying high elevation areas and moving people in low lying areas prior to floods and keeping them there for at least 15 days with all arrangements.
  • Constructing permeable pavements and recharge pits
  • Improving the storm water drain construction with improved methods, keeping an eye on climate change.
  • Having a climate resilience plan for Chennai.
  • Mapping should be based on GIS and MIS.
  • Installing digital information boards in Chennai that can provide useful information about the ecological requirements, pollution levels, etc to inform and motivate the public.
  • Using evidence-based technology
  • Considering 5 year maintenance in water body restoration and other projects.
  • CSR funding of greening projects

Anna University has a first-of-its-kind climate studio. This collects global data and will use them for generating local data and early warning systems. Adaptation is a short-term process. Mitigation is long-term. Preparedness to Disaster, Response and Recovery is the process.
Lastly, I would like to applaud the Tamil Nadu government for launching the Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission, Green Tamil Nadu Mission and Tamil Nadu Wetland Mission. This is the first time that a state in India has launched a Climate Change session.

Smartness is about quality

Mr Raj Cherubal, Chief Executive Officer, Chennai Smart City Ltd (CSCL)

It is an inspiring thought that what we do in Chennai resonates across the world. We have an amazing opportunity to set examples to the world and also learn from others.
In advanced cities like Barcelona, London or Paris, when we walk around, we don’t worry about how many IOT devices are present nor are we scared of any system. We just walk around with our children, enjoy the coffee shops, clean air and the public transport. Smartness of a city is not just about technology alone. It is about quality of life, especially for the poor. Climate change and lack of resilience will impact them more than any one of us. As a city, we are a team and we have to do something about it.
We have to think in terms of short-term, medium-term and long-term. We have a tendency to think too long term that things don’t take off and so frustration builds up.
We need to build the morale of the city. We can do certain things as building blocks and scale them up. If we think about London and Paris and compare them to Chennai, we have one pedestrian plaza as against 10 pedestrian plazas there. We have a parking management system in certain places. They have it everywhere. We have Metro Rail for 30 kilometers. They probably have for 300 kilometers. The question is not only how you build strategic building blocks but how you can scale.
We need to start doing things on the ground which are not zillion dollar projects. It can be simple ones like beautifying the underpasses. The stretch from Tidel Park to Madya Kailash, right in October, will be one of the most beautiful places in Chennai with walking trails, cycle tracks, amphitheaters and so on. If we can do that for 2 kilometers, we can do it for a hundred kilometers.
When we talked of fixing the water bodies in Chennai four or five years ago, people laughed at us. They thought it was only about Cooum. There are thousands of water bodies in Chennai. Last April, we won the smart city award for fixing water bodies in the country. We have restored 210 Water bodies and about 50 to 60 temple tanks. They should be some kind of a world record. This is why we got the award last year. Villivakkam lake will soon be one of the amazing water bodies of the country, if not in the world. It was a pure sewage dump a year ago. Two weeks ago, I counted 30 Pelicans landing in that water. If we can fix that, we can fix any lake or water body.
The Times Square in Chennai
In advanced countries, they say: Pay less attention to cars and more attention to people. Inspired by the New York Times Square, we implemented the T.Nagar Pedestrian Plaza. Initially people were wondering what it was all about. Today, it is one of the very well-received projects. We can replicate that in 10 or 15 places and in different styles. It is not with cut and paste but based on the local conditions.
A glamorous plaza must have storm water drains and ducting so that we don’t keep digging up the road over and over again. People used to be worried that we were going to cut down all the trees in the name of a plaza. But actually the number of trees have gone up. All our projects, instead of being simple, can become more complex like you would expect from an advanced city, with layers and layers of infrastructure and facilities built in.
Parking management system is critical to controlling the growth of cars on the road. We have cycle sharing. It’s a very difficult project but Chennai actually has it. It needs to be promoted.
We have the building blocks in our hands and if we don’t use them, we have to blame ourselves. To put it in a positive way, we have come a long way. It is time we started getting together and building bigger pictures.

People used to be worried that we were going to cut down all the trees in the name of a plaza. But actually the number of trees have gone up. All our projects, instead of being simple, can become more complex like you would expect from an advanced city, with layers and layers of infrastructure and facilities built in.

Chennai and World Bank
Our Honorable Finance Minister announced that Chennai will be a city partner with the World Bank, which means huge amounts of investment will be coming to Chennai and Tamil Nadu government. But what is important is that it happened because of the positive impression about Chennai and the work done by various agencies like Corporation, Metro Water, MTC and so on. They have seen the potential in Chennai.
Consultants for projects must come out with clear ways of execution and detailed Bill of Quantities. That is what the government projects need. I request all of you to come and visit our Command and Control Center. We have big screens like in a James Bond movie, big graphics and all. It is a cloud-based system with a bunch of IOT devices. It can tell which subway is flooding, who is not wearing a helmet or which garbage bin is overflowing.
80:20 Principle
Without stakeholder engagement, nothing happens. We need to think in terms of the 80:20 Pareto Principle. We have limited time, energy and people. Using big data, analytics and artificial intelligence, we must identify the 20% of effort that we need to put in to get that 80% result. So, for example, if tomorrow it is going to rain, can you tell the Corporation Commissioner which are the hundred locations that are going to be flooded, which means today, we can do something about it?
Instead of doing ad-hoc projects, we need to put systems and layers in place so that average engineers, average officials and average citizens can do extraordinary things.