FLASH

When MGR, Jaya proposed shifting of capital from Chennai

Updated by admin on Thursday, August 06, 2020 07:11 PM IST

Chennai:
TN needs a second Capital --------  When MGR’s ‘Capital’ idea got shelved nearly four decades ago

(Please also find a version of this article in The Times of India, Chennai edition, dated August 6, 2020. Link given below.) 
 
On March 15, 1981, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MG Ramachandran, sprang a surprise when he said the capital of the State should be shifted from Chennai to Tiruchi (Tiruchirapalli). Pointing out that people had to travel long distances to reach Chennai in order to meet Ministers and officials at the State Secretariat here and press their demands, the capital should be in the centre of the State, enabling people to reach within a few hours. Therefore, Tiruchi would be the ideal capital, he said. The decision to shift the capital was met with stiff resistance from many quarters but none was harsher than Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, Ram Jethmalani, who said the Brain, which was the most important part,  was not at the centre but at the top of the head ! Heated exchange of words led to bitterness between the two.

Mercifully, MGR did not retort that fish rots from the head. A few months later, when corruption charges were levelled against MGR and others with relation to grant of liquor licences, the CM constituted a Commission of Inquiry, initially called Ramamurthy Commission, and later Ramprasadarao Commission. Guess, who turned up to defend the TN Government (in effect, MGR), it was Ram Jethmalani himself ! In 1984, the Commission came out with its finding that MGR and Ministers were not guilty of any act of corruption, and absolved them of any malpractice.

Meanwhile, in the period 1981-82, MGR went ahead with the proposal to move the capital to Tiruchi, citing the acute drought situation as well which caused a severe drinking water crisis in Chennai. A war of words flowed between DMK President M Karunanidhi, and MGR and his Ministers over the 'Capital' issue. MGR suggested that instead of spending on 400 to 500 crore on drought relief and water supply measures in Chennai, the capital at Tiruchi could be built using that money. Karunanidhi retorted that the scheme would cost at last Rs. 1,000 crore, and wondered how a Government which could not spare Rs. 50 crore for drought relief, would spend Rs. 1,000 crore on a new capital.

When some persons said the capital should be close to the coast (so that it would have port facilities), MGR pointed out that Washington and Delhi did not have ports. Such charges and counter-charges continued.  

Karunanidhi also had a dig at MGR, and said he was not serious about the proposal and merely wanted to divert attention from the issues and charges facing the Government on many fronts. MGR said some people in Chennai were worried that if the capital was changed to Tiruchi, some persons who owned a lot of property in Chennai would lose as the value of these assets would go down !  Karunanidhi hit out at MGR saying he was only worried about his own 'Capital'.

A place called Navalpattu near Mundhipatti, suburb of Tiruchi, was identified for the capital where the Government was assured it had enough land for the project.
According to sources in the Government then, the real reason for MGR's decision to shift the capital was the successive defeats of his partymen and the victories of DMK stalwarts from constituencies in Chennai, which was then described as DMK's fortress. It must have been galling to sit on the throne in an area which returned mostly DMK men to the State Assembly, rejecting members of his own party. Those who sought development works or even civic works in Chennai would be told that they had elected DMK leaders as their representatives, so why should the AIADMK government do anything at all for them. The city continued to be in a state of neglect. 

The AIADMK government was described as reminiscent of Mohd Bin Tughlaq.

Later, the Capital project got shelved, as the government had other priorities, and MGR fell ill.
 
A similar phrase has now been used by former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu, to describe the decision of the present CM, Jaganmohan Reddy, to shelve the Amaravathi project and instead create three new capitals for AP. He has called it a Tughlag mindset (Mohd Bin Tughlaq, a medieval ruler, had shifted capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (In Maharashtra) as he felt it would be easier to control the Indian sub-continent from the centre of his enlarged kingdom. He beat a hasty retreat after many deaths enroute and at the new capital due to disease, and moved back to Delhi. )

J Jayalalithaa too wanted to change the capital from Chennai to Chengalpattu district, at a place near Mamallapuram. Land was identified at Thiruvidanthai, which houses a famous Srinivasa Perumal temple, along the ECR. The decision came after unseemly incidents over an army officer's vehicle being sought to be refused entry into Fort St. George which houses the army headquarters as well as the State Secretariat. Technically, the area comes under the control of the Defence department. The vehicle was sought to be stopped as the convoy of Jayalalithaa was to enter the Fort too by the same gate. It is said that a police officer who blocked the army officer, was taken by the latter in his vehicle to the army office, and detained. He was set free only after a senior Minister of the AIADMK government had to intervene. The issue was said to have rankled Jayalalithaa, prompting a decision to move the capital and the State Secretariat to a new location. Since Jayalalithaa often stayed then at her Paiyyanoor farm house off ECR, the new complex would not be too far for her. There was then a dramatic rise in real estate prices off the ECR. Be that as it may, serious moves were made by the Government to bring the land under HRCE and Revenue departments for the project. However, a few months later, this project too was shelved.

Whether the capital needs to be shifted, the State needs to look at the option of dispersal and decongestion of Chennai by creating a second capital art Tiruchi or Karur, to enable citizens to get their grievances redressed speedily. The idea of a High Court Bench at Madurai was initially scoffed at but hs now been largely welcomed. Tiruchi, for instance, already has a good network of premier educational institutions, an airport, and an IT Park. Karur has plenty of land available for a massive second capital. Like the Maharashtra Government conducts a ‘winter’ session of its Assembly at Nagpur, treated as a second capital, Tamil Nadu’s second capital could also have one or two Assembly sessions in a year, where people could meet ministers, MLAs, public servants in person to press their demands. It would also take administration closer to the people. At least departments like Agriculture, Irrigation, Revenue.  Milk and Dairy Development, Fisheries, Forests and Environment, Handlooms and Textiles, Animal Husbandry, Rural Industries, Labour and Employment, Backward Classes and Minority welfare, Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare, Khadi and Village Industries.

With the Government already geared for systems of emails and digital communication, it should not be difficult to have several departments function from the second capital. The main departments like Home, Education, Industries, Health, Commercial Taxes, Electricity, Public Works, Social Welfare, IT, Tourism, Arts and Culture, Tamil Development, HRCE, Information and Law departments may function from Chennai.

The Tamil Nadu Government needs to initiate a policy of consensus towards decongestion of Chennai and promoting a second capital in interests of better governance and increased responsiveness to its citizens.  Trade and industry too may be in favour of such a proposal.

By R. Rangaraj 








https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/the-capital-issue/articleshow/77380850.cms

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