Status of a Metro City


In India, a large city is usually called a “Metro”. It sometimes confuses people, as metro could also be used for subway train system. But people in India understand the “largeness” of a Metro City. Originally, there were only four Metros in India – New Delhi, Mumbai (also known as Bombay), Kolkata (also known as Calcutta) and Chennai (also known as Madras). Chennai is the smallest of these four Metros, with an estimated population of around 8M. Subsequently, several other cities such as Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) and Hyderabad were added to this list of Metros. I am not sure how many such Metro Cities are there in India, but surely it is more than the original four.

Out of the above list, I had the opportunity to recently visit Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. This post is about sharing my recent impressions and experiences of visiting these cities (not the first time for me however). All these cities are well connected by road, rail and air. All have well-established international airports, served by a variety of domestic and international air carriers.

First, let me talk about Hyderabad. The international airport is good (I would give it a rating of 4 upon 5), well organized, and easy to navigate. But as it always happens in India, there is confusion once you exit the terminal gates with your baggage. It is not easy to move around with coffee and food shops around cluttering the exits (the airport authority found it fit to sell the space to private operators who have clogged the place), and I found that even a person waiting to receive you at the airport terminal exit has to pay a fee to sit down in the public seating area (it is like asking one to pay for seating at a bus station or train station, or even worse asking one to pay for sitting outside the station !

The highway from the airport to the city is excellent. It has 3 lanes on either side, and is well lit. However, since the road curves around steeply (built through some hilly areas), more safety features are needed than just having a better lighting or illuminated strips on the road. There must be speed reduction and speed monitoring by radar, and imposition of fines on drivers who violate these speed limits.

The city of Hyderabad is good (except in the old part of Char Minar which is extremely congested) overall, but the construction challenges pose big issues to the operational aspects of road travel and safety (this comment however applies to all Metro cities in India). The weather in Hyderabad is better than the Chennai weather, while the days are hot the evenings are very pleasant. But I believe that Hyderabad is not having a cold winter in December 2015; it has gotten to be hotter than it was in December 2014. El Nino effect ?

The IT industry is hot in Hyderabad, with all the global big players having major facilities in the “Hi-Tech City” – a suburb of Hyderabad. However, the cost of living is reasonable (not as high as Bengaluru or Chennai). I had the opportunity of buying some sugar free cookies at the famous Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad during this trip. The roads were not evenly good all over Hyderabad, with big ups and downs in several business and shopping areas, and the Corporation of Hyderabad will do well to fix these road related issues quickly to improve its image in the pecking order ahead of Bengaluru.

After Hyderabad, I visited Kolkata, the erstwhile HQ of The British East India Company, and still behaving in some quarters as a colonial city (especially in its social club practices). I was surprised that Kolkata has a new and large airport but not many air travellers. The airport was relatively empty when I arrived at 10:30 AM on a working day, which told me something about the “business friendly” approach of the city. The previous governments were run by the Communist Party for four decades and the impact is still there for everyone to see and experience.

As a people, the Bengalis are probably the most intelligent group of Indians (I do not wish to get into a slanging match on this point however !), who do very well globally in industry, business and academics. Hence, one would experience a thoughtful treatment in many encounters, with very open and candid discussion on topics of relevance. So, we need to be prepared for an engagement of a different order and breadth !

The city itself is dilapidated, with most of the buildings and structures very old and crumbling. There are many condominiums and some new corporate buildings, but then the overall perspective is that the city is not doing as well as the other Metros of India. One example of the un-fixed issue is the complete stoppage of traffic at several key intersections in the city area, where most drivers switch off their engines as there is no point in keeping the engines running for 15 minutes or more (yes sometimes it takes that kind of time to move through a traffic junction !). Such inefficiency will be witnessed by all travellers to the city of Kolkata. In general, the city moves at a slow pace (slower than what is needed for business success), and there are very few corporate HQs in the city.

The food is great, and the Bengali sweets are world famous. I took a tour of the city – saw Victoria Memorial (fabulously well kept), Marble Palace (not well kept but worth visiting for seeing the European marble statues), Howrah Bridge, et al………..fascinating, with lots of Bengalis from other parts of the State visiting their own State Capital of Kolkata probably for the first time – all wide-eyed, clicking photos on their cell phones…….!

The final leg of my trip took me to Chennai, which has been recently ravaged by the worst rains and floods in a hundred years. The spirit of Chennai still lives on, with many taxi drivers intensely narrating to me the problems faced by ordinary people while at the same time highlighting the good samaritan work carried out by hundreds of teenagers and youngsters to save the common man from the destructive floods. It was heartening to learn about such challenging human work, and it supported the videos that I have received and seen. There was a breakdown of government machinery since the government was not prepared for the huge magnitude of the rains which occurred. There have been reports of misdeeds by various factions, but the fact of the matter is that the city survived and seems to be recovering nicely. I could not see or feel the impact of floods, though almost everyone told me that there was 3 to 4 feet of water in most roads through which I travelled around in the city.

The Chennai roads are badly damaged, and need urgent fixing. Many small businesses have lost heavily, and many households have lost almost everything they had. Both the State and the Central (Federal) governments have to move very fast to ensure that the city gets back on its feet, and use the recovery process to streamline the horrendous traffic situation in the city.

I used OLA CABS and FASTTRACK CABS for my travels around the city, and I was both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised. Since this post is becoming too long, I will make a separate post on some of these other experiences soon.

In the meanwhile, read this post and provide your comments, and enjoy a great weekend !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd January 2016

 

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