With the Army out to rescue stranded citizens, its airport closed for a day and iconic companies shutting operations or paring down their work hours, there is more to Chennai’s ravaging rains than it might appear in the simple numbers that will emerge when the waters have receded.
While relief, rehabilitation and repairs may form the troika of tasks in front of the authorities, there is a case to look at the event not only as a wake-up call to think big on urban infrastructure and environmental sustainability, but also an occasion to act for the sake of India’s larger economy.
The second spell of rains in the city of 4.9 million people are bleeding a key manufacturing hub even as the government gears up to attract global investors to its ambitious Make In India scheme. Images pouring in from the city include those of flooded streets in plush residential areas and waterlogged campuses in a special economic zone.
Industrial areas such as Manali and Avadi are among those severely hit by incessant downpours. Companies whose operations have been affected include TCS, Infosys and HCL Technologies among software exporters, and Renault Nissan, Yamaha, BMW and Ashok Leyland among automobile giants.
As a back-office hub for the World Bank and global consulting firm McKinsey, Chennai’s status on the global investment map becomes even more significant. While growth so far has created stresses that have contributed no doubt to infrastructure problems, the next wave of growth must be on stronger and sustainable ground.
While India is set to overtake China as the world’s fastest-growing major economy this year, foreign investors and financiers may be unnerved when civic distress becomes part of the risks they must face in a key metropolis.
After the first round of devastating rains, Tamil Nadu had pegged the damage to the state at close to Rs 8,500 crore and chief minister J Jayalalithaa had sought the prime minister’s help to immediately release Rs 2,000 crore for relief work.
At that time, insurance claims from damages were estimated at Rs 500 crore. Both numbers are bound to go up substantially. It is reassuring that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has telephoned Ms Jayalalithaa from the climate change conference in Paris to offer help.
The gesture must now be followed up by an elaborate plan to fix infrastructure, environmental imbalances and civic amenities.