A Torrent of Water and Concrete Imperil Chennai’s IT Boom
The third in a series of reports by Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center on the global implications of water, energy, and food challenges in the south India state of Tamil Nadu.
By Sibi Arasu
Circle of Blue – April 25, 2017
CHENNAI, India – Almost a decade ago, when the first of Chennai’s bleach-white IT office buildings replaced coconut groves along the Bay of Bengal south of the city center, leaders hailed the potential for a new wave of clean jobs. Nine years later, it is clear that planners did not fully anticipate the consequences.
Information technology proved so popular in Chennai that it is now India’s second largest IT center behind Bengaluru. But in bringing down protective coconut palms and constructing the dense strip of offices and contemporary residences atop water-absorbing coastal wetlands, planners put the city’s fastest growing business sector at the mercy of Tamil Nadu’s suddenly dangerous meteorology.
In the last 18 months, the IT corridor has been bullied by fierce flooding, a dangerous cyclone, and severe drought. New home buyers are starting to settle in other neighborhoods in north and west Chennai. Nervous IT office managers are weighing relocation.
“Ecological distress has always been a factor but it’s surely moved up the value chain because of the last few years,” said Preetam Mehra, the head of Chennai operations for the American commercial real estate services firm, CBRE. “Chennai didn’t have a history of any major ecological events and hence that was not on top of people’s minds. Now, everyone is more diligent about where they invest, taking further precautions about how and when they want to invest.”
More Choke Point: Tamil Nadu
Read the full series of reports on the global implications of water, energy, and food challenges in the south India state of Tamil Nadu.
The conflicting demand for water, food, and energy is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. Global Choke Point, a collaboration between Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center, explores the peril and promise of this nexus with frontline reporting, data, and policy expertise. “Choke Point: Tamil Nadu” is supported by the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai. Jayshree Vencatesan of Care Earth Trust, Nityanand Jayaraman, and Amirtharaj Stephen provided expertise and invaluable guidance.
Sources: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Central Electricity Authority (India), Circle of Blue, Community Environmental Monitoring, Enerdata, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Ministry of Coal (India), Public Finance Public Accountability Collective, The Times of India, U.S. Energy Information Administration, United Nations Environment Program.
Photo Credits: Used with permission courtesy of Dhruv Malhotra/Circle of Blue. Map and Graphics: Used with permission courtesy of Cody Pope/Circle of Blue.