Floods Play Havoc In Chennai

City’s Real Estate Sector Suffers

For weeks now, Chennai seemed to be in the grip of a storm, as a combination of unseasonal rains, unexpected weather patterns and runoff from nearby dams flooded the city, throwing its citizens into a state of despair. The Ramakrishnans were not able to enter their house in Chennai as it was surrounded by knee-deep water which was rising. Soon enough, water-levels were neck high and the family was forced to watch helplessly as sewage entered their home in posh Veerappa Nagar in North Chennai. “When it began pouring heavily, rain water began mixing with the drainage water and entered our home. I tried saving everything I could. I put things on cots, but how much could I save within half an hour? I was trying to pack up everything as quickly as possible and send my family away”, laments Veena Ramakrishnan.

Fearing the worst, the Ramakrishnans had no option but to pack up and take refuge in a hotel. Another 250 families followed suit, abandoning their homes to nature’s fury.

Chennai Floods: Natural Disaster or Manmade Folly?

Enough has been written and said about Chennai’s floods, the worst to have hit the capital of Tamil Nadu in over 100 years. Urban planning experts lay the blame squarely on human incompetence, with haphazard construction along the banks of lakes blocking channels, which would have normally allowed rain water to drain out.

The floods also exposed the unplanned manner in which urban development in the city had taken place over the decades, especially the practice of building on dried-up lake beds. According to a report from the Chennai Metro Development Authority, there are over 1.5 lakh illegal structures in the city which have been responsible for the disappearance of over 300 water bodies. These low lying lands were then turned into concrete jungles with the very concept of storm-water drains lying largely forgotten. Experts lay the blame on the lack of CMDA guidelines that builders have to follow to lay out a proper storm-water drainage system. Here, the absence of experienced urban planners was clearly felt. “Urban planning is of critical importance today simply because an architect can only design what is inside the project but you need an urban planner to plan out the waterways, the road infrastructure. Most people are building homes in areas which are say 1-2kms from the lake areas, so it is essential to employ urban planners who will then look at holistic development”, says Sanjay Chugh, head of residential services at JLL Chennai. Experts believe it is critical to have external agencies assess drainage systems and waterways and this disaster serves as a stark example of why it is essential for project planning to go hand in hand with city planning.

Real Estate Projects in Chennai Face Delays

The real estate community in Chennai has also suffered significant losses with tonnes of construction material washed away, project areas lying flooded, equipment damaged and migrant labourers having left the city fearing the deluge, all of which will see under-construction facing delays. “The lifts were not operational because the lifts had water in them. We had to wait to clean them once the backflow happened. Work has also been held up mainly because of labourers leaving. I would reckon all of this will cause a delay of about 2 months”, says Vineet Relia, managing director of SARE Homes. According to data from JLL, 500 apartments have been sold every quarter in Chennai this year and an estimated sale of 20,000-22,000 apartments were expected by the end of 2015. The impact of these floods could bring that figure down by at least 20 %.

But clearly buying new property doesn’t seem to be a priority for people in Chennai right now. After all, for the many citizens of Chennai, their dream homes have turned into cesspools. In areas like Mudichur, Saidapet, Pallaikarnai, Tambaram, Velachery, Perumbakkam and Sholinganallur, you might witness the bizarre sight of people using boats to navigate what were once main roads connecting the various regions of the city. Has this disaster washed away the faith people had in Chennai’s real estate? Or will it return once the Pongal season comes in? We will have to wait and see.

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