06/10/2022

While Revenue Minister R. B. Udhayakumar is among those campaigning for Madurai, Congress MP S. Thirunavukkarasar and Tourism Minister Vellamandi N. Natarajan are promoting Tiruchi

Tamil Nadu is witnessing an intense debate on a new capital after nearly 40 years. Notably the demand has come from within the ruling AIADMK eight months ahead of the next Assembly election.
In December 1980, then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran at an official event in Madurai, called upon people to do loud thinking whether the State must have its capital at the centre (geographically). He gave three options Chennai, Madurai or Tiruchi but later hinted his preference for a place between Tiruchi and Thanjavur citing water availability in the region as a major reason.
Also read | Should we build a new capital?
However, MGRs idea met with an immediate opposition from then DMK president M. Karunanidhi, who called it a diversionary tactic to deflect the attention of the people from real issues. In course of time, the idea died down.
In November 1995, then Union Minister of State M. Arunachalam, floated the proposal of choosing Tiruchi as the second capital. Since then, the idea is being aired irregularly.
In May 2002, then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced her governments plan to raise a 2,000-acre administrative capital near Mamallapuram the stretch involving Thiruvidanthai and Thaiyur villages, off East Coast Road and about 40 km south of Chennai.
The concept of a second capital has got renewed life after the Andhra Pradesh government decided to develop Amaravati, Kurnool and Visakhapatnam the legislative, judicial and executive capitals respectively.
Revenue Minister R. B. Udhayakumar is one of the forces behind the campaign Make Madurai Second Capital. He says the demand arises out of the realisation that there has to be greater decentralisation and Chennai deserves to be decongested, a fact which has got highlighted again during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tiruchis case is being promoted by Congress MP S. Thirunavukkarasar and Tourism Minister Vellamandi N. Natarajan.
However, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has sought to distance the government from the issue, contending these views were made by Ministers in their personal capacity.
Mr. Udhayakumar contends that the proposed second or alternative capital could come up on any of the stretches connecting Madurai with Virudhunagar or Tiruchi or Theni. He says enough government lands are available there. The issue of water could be addressed through combined water supply schemes, using Cauvery, Vaigai and Tamiraparani as the sources.
Also read |The fight for Madras
In his rough estimation, 10,000 acres of land may be required. Instead of a contiguous stretch, you can have the fresh capital on parcels of land, the Minister argues, denying any political motive behind the idea.
Broadly concurring with the position about over-congestion of Chennai, M.G. Devasahayam, retired civil servant and Administrator of the Chandigarh Capital Project in the 1970s, says Madurai or Tiruchi has to be a counter magnet to the present magnet of Chennai.
The issue of a fresh capital should not be viewed in a limited way but with multiple dimensions. There are different options such as developing either of the cities as a fresh financial or industrial capital.
K. P. Subramanian, Visiting Professor in the School of Planning of the Anna University, says both Tiruchi and Madurai have their own positive features. Let us approach the whole issue with an open mind and do scientific analysis before choosing the suitable location, he observes.
However, prominent DMK figures from the south are not impressed. Speaking in her personal capacity, Poongothai Aladi Aruna, former Minister and legislator from Alangulam in Tenkasi district, argues the government has not completed or made use of the existing development projects or information technology (IT) parks.
Let us improve the general infrastructure with what is available. Let the government first upgrade all the district headquarters and focus on job creation, she points out.
Her colleague and former Minister Thangam Thennarasu, who hails from Virudhunagar district, questions the timing behind the demand. It is quite strange that Mr. Udhayakumar, who has been Minister nearly for 10 years, is talking of the need for de-congesting Chennai now and looking at Madurai as a fresh capital.
This should not be mixed with the demand being raised by academicians and industrialists as they are only highlighting aspirations of the people in the area, he feels, asking why the government has not done anything tangible for the industrialisation of the southern region.