The city's administration aims to elevate the stature of Coimbatore so that its infrastructure can compare with the best in the country.
WHEN a slew of development projects were placed before successive meetings of the Coimbatore Corporation Council in 2005-06 for its approval, the refrain at every session was Never before did Coimbatore city have such an opportunity for infrastructure development, and it probably will never have again. It took a while for the elected representatives of the civic body to understand the magnitude of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The mission was announced by the Central government in 2005, and the implementation period is seven years. The outlay for projects under the mission, Rs.3,160 crore, was staggering in comparison with the projects the Corporation had implemented since its formation in 1981.
Suddenly, a city that was struggling to maintain even 20-foot-wide roads began to visualise a number of flyovers, a bus rapid transit system, multi-tier parking lots and a 24-hour drinking water supply. Coimbatore is one of the 63 cities in the country to be chosen for infrastructure development under the mission. The other two cities in Tamil Nadu are Chennai and Madurai.
The projects that are being implemented in Coimbatore in the first phase of the mission are the Pilloor Phase II drinking water scheme at a cost of Rs.113 crore, an integrated solid waste management scheme at Rs.96 crore and an underground drainage scheme at Rs.377 crore. Similar schemes have been envisaged for the suburbs.
If the JNNURM brought about the realisation in 2005 that Coimbatore could have world-class infrastructure, what got things going was the World Classical Tamil Conference, which was held in the city in June. Coimbatore's biggest need improving the condition of roads was met in the run-up to the conference. The State government provided Rs.26 crore from its Infrastructure and Amenities Fund to improve 71 roads (totally covering a distance of 75 kilometres), including three roads that had been envisaged under the JNNURM by the Local Planning Authority.
The district administration, the City Corporation and agencies such as the Electricity Board, the Water Supply Board and the Highways Department got together to improve the services that came under their purview. At the conclusion of the conference, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced that development works had been carried out at a cost of Rs.243 crore for the conference. Corporation officials themselves admitted that the conference came to the city's rescue by providing funds for some major works that the civic body had been struggling to find financial resources for.
Apart from roads, another major project was the provision of underground electricity lines. This was done for the first time in the city on two arterial roads: Avinashi Road and Tiruchi Road. The administration plans to replicate this across the city in phases and is also working on a model road project to provide ducts along roads for television, telephone and electricity lines and wide pavements.
The World Classical Tamil Conference projects also included the beautification of the city by setting up parks and decorative fountains. The Corporation plans to use the public-private partnership model for the maintenance of the more than 80 parks in the city, including the 42 that were set up in the run-up to the conference.
After the conference, the focus was back on the JNNURM schemes. The aim now is to elevate the stature of Coimbatore to a city that can compare with the best in the country in terms of basic and major infrastructure.
The advantage, according to the Corporation, is the grant that the Central and State governments provide for the JNNURM schemes. The Centre will meet 50 per cent of the project cost and the State 20 per cent.
Close to 12 years ago, Coimbatore, particularly the Corporation, was introduced to the concept of a city corporate plan when a team from the World Bank visited the city in late 1998. Considering Coimbatore's stature as an industrial zone, the team proposed that the civic body draw up a plan to improve core municipal services such as garbage collection, sewage disposal and water supply and at the same time put in place large facilities such as flyovers and expressways.
The Corporation could not meet the requirements, especially the funds, for such a plan. Besides, as in the case of most Indian cities, in Coimbatore roads, transport, telecommunications and civic amenities are under the control of different agencies. The World Bank's city corporate plan had not reckoned with this. Seven years later, the JNNURM came as a godsend. Even though the multiple-agency control on facilities persists, schemes as diverse as providing multi-storey tenements for slum-dwellers, rejuvenating waterbodies and providing underground sewers are being implemented. Significantly, the State government transferred the custody of eight tanks in the city from the Public Works Department to the Coimbatore Corporation so that the primary agency chosen for the implementation of the JNNURM would have the task of de-silting the tanks, which is important to maintain the city's groundwater table.
Development in the city will hinge on the availability of water. The Corporation is alive to this need, said Mayor R. Venkatachalam. That is why we are keen on rejuvenating the tanks, so that the groundwater table rises. The Pilloor scheme is of equal importance as a growing city needs to meet the demand on this front too. We do not want any form of development to be hit by water scarcity, he said.
The JNNURM is of great significance to Coimbatore because it will provide 70 per cent government grants for schemes that should turn it into a developed city, the Mayor said. A developed city should have total sanitation. The sewerage system, storm water drains and solid waste management schemes are significant in this context, he pointed out.
While infrastructure is a key component of the development process, the administration will provide impetus to agriculture also, said District Collector P. Umanath. Popularising modern agricultural practices will be one of the measures to improve the farm economy of the district.
Coimbatore's industrial growth in the last five years was supported through the development of infrastructure for the manufacturing and service sectors. Under the Industrial Infrastructure Upgradation Fund Scheme, the Union government gave foundries and pumpset and engineering units several common facilities for testing, raw material sourcing, designing, and skill development at a total cost of Rs.60 crore.
Industrial estates have come up for small- and medium-scale foundries under this scheme. The Coimbatore Industrial Infrastructure Association (COINDIA), which implemented the scheme, has also created infrastructure such as business centres for business development. Cargo-handling facilities got a boost this year, with the Container Corporation of India commissioning a warehouse and a rail siding at the city's inland container depot.
The Chief Minister inaugurated the Coimbatore Tidel Park in August. The park was set up at a cost of Rs.350 crore and will provide employment to about 12,000 people. Synefra Engineering & Construction a company that provides integrated infrastructure solutions and that was formerly known as Suzlon Infrastructure developed a special economic zone (SEZ) in Coimbatore for high technology engineering and allied industries and expects it to attract a total investment of about Rs.5,000 crore.
Coimbatore district, particularly the city, is an eminent health care centre. It has multi-speciality hospitals and also those that cater to specialisations such as orthopaedics and plastic surgery, surgical gastroenterology and heart and eye care. Most of these hospitals are also surgical skills training centres and are patronised by surgeons from other countries.
In the one year since the introduction of the Kalaignar Insurance Scheme for Life Saving Treatments, three Coimbatore hospitals topped in the State in treating below poverty line families under the scheme. Ganga Hospital topped in orthopaedic surgeries, Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Oncology and Research in cancer care, and Sree Abirami Hospitals in general surgery. All the three received awards from the Chief Minister for their achievement.
While these hospitals were the early starters, the others who got empanelled later are also performing a number of procedures, thus enabling the poor to avail themselves of advanced medical care that was previously inaccessible to them, said health officials. The total number of beneficiaries under the insurance scheme in the State is 1.45 crores. Coimbatore alone accounts for seven lakh members. In terms of numbers, it was only 5 per cent but in terms of benefits reaped it was much more, said the Collector.
As for the public health apparatus, Coimbatore Medical College Hospital is set to get a major facelift. This tertiary referral unit for Erode, Udhagamandalam, Coimbatore and Tirupur districts will get, at a cost of Rs.50 crore, a new block, which will house departments for maternal and child health, trauma care and renal care. This, too, was announced by the government in the run-up to the World Classical Tamil Conference.
Public health care received a further boost in the district in the form of the 108' emergency ambulance service. Teaming up with the Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI), the government introduced the service across the State. Coimbatore has 14 ambulances, which can rush to people's help when they dial the toll free number 108. In the past two years since the introduction of the service, we have handled more than 32,000 emergencies. Of these, 1,475 were highly critical cases and we have saved them, said H. Mohan, the regional manager of the EMRI. While the government provides funds, the EMRI handles the operations.
Both the administration and the Corporation are working hard to turn Coimbatore into a slum-free city. Under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP), a component of the JNNURM, multi-storeyed tenements are being constructed in the city to house people now living in the slums, some of which are near waterbodies. The rejuvenation of these waterbodies will only be possible after the people have been relocated. From living amid sewage and garbage, former slum-dwellers will have tenements with lifts, piped water supply and other basic amenities.
The administration says that the presence of slums prevents development in the surrounding areas. Besides, it has a social commitment to improve the living conditions of the urban poor, some of whom are conservancy workers who toil to keep the city clean.
(With inputs from V.S. Palaniappan and M. Soundariya Preetha)