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Chennai Floods

Chennai floods are not a natural disaster – they've been created by unrestrained construction

The infrastructure of big commerce has replaced the infrastructure to withstand natural shocks.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's response to the floods in Tamil Nadu is frightening. A report in NDTV quotes her as saying, “Losses are unavoidable when there's very heavy rain. Swift rescue and relief alone are indicators of a good government.” These words are intended to normalise a human-made disaster, and gloss over the pathology of urban development under successive administrations.

It is quite usual for politicians and civic officials to blame so-called unprecedented rains for the civic and humanitarian crisis each monsoon brings, and decouple development from disaster. But unprecedented rains occur quite regularly in Chennai. As a city on the high-energy coast facing the Bay of Bengal, Chennai is no stranger to heavy rains and cyclonic storms. Chennai has experienced particularly heavy rains roughly once every 10 years – 1969, 1976, 1985, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2015.

Sathyabama University was constructed in a water body on Old Mahabalipuram Road.

In fact, at 235 mm, last weekend's rainfall is not even the big daddy of big rains. The Nungambakkam rain gauge recorded 270 mm on October 27,  2005; 280 mm in 1969, and 450 mm in November 1976.

Even in 1976, Adyar overflowed its banks and invaded first-floor houses. But those were the days when Chennai was derided for being an overgrown village, an underdeveloped aspirant to metropolitan status.

Today, Chennai has a host of expensive infrastructure aimed at ushering in a “Make in Chennai” boom – a brand-new (though leaky) airport built on the floodplains of the River Adyar, a sprawling bus terminal in flood-prone Koyambedu, a Mass Rapid Transit System constructed almost wholly over the Buckingham Canal and the Pallikaranai marshlands, expressways and bypass roads constructed with no mind to the tendency of water to flow, an IT corridor and a Knowledge Corridor consisting of engineering colleges constructed on waterbodies, and automobile and telecom SEZs and gated residential areas built on important drainage courses and catchments.

MRC Nagar 2001, Google Maps

MRC Nagar 2015, Google Maps

With every invitation to Make in Chennai, the city is unmaking itself and eroding its resilience to perfectly normal monsoon weather events. The infrastructure of big commerce has replaced the infrastructure to withstand natural shocks.

The 2015 disaster was not just avoidable; it was a direct consequence of decisions pushed for by vested interests and conceded by town planners, bureaucrats and politicians in the face of wiser counsel.

The case of the Pallikaranai marshlands, which drains water from a 250-square-kilometre catchment, is telling. Not long ago, it was a 50-square-kilometre water sprawl in the southern suburbs of Chennai. Now, it is 4.3 square kilometres – less than a tenth of its original. The growing finger of a garbage dump sticks out like a cancerous tumour in the northern part of the marshland.  Two major roads cut through the waterbody with few pitifully small culverts that are not up to the job of transferring the rain water flows from such a large catchment. The edges have been eaten into by institutes like the National Institute of Ocean Technology. Ironically, NIOT is an accredited consultant to prepare Environmental Impact Assessments on various subjects, including on the implications of constructing on waterbodies.

Other portions of this wetland have been sacrificed to accommodate the IT corridor. But water offers no exemption to elite industry. Unmindful of the lofty intellectuals at work in the glass and steel buildings of the software parks, rainwater goes by habit to occupy its old haunts, bringing the back-office work of American banks to a grinding halt.

The vast network of waterbodies that characterised Chennai can only be seen on revenue maps now. Of the 16 tanks belonging to the Vyasarpadi chain downstream of Retteri, none remain, according to Prof. M. Karmegam of Anna University.

Virtually every one of the flood-hit areas can be linked to ill-planned construction. The Chennai Bypass connecting NH45 to NH4 blocks the east flowing drainage causing flooding in Anna Nagar, Porur, Vanagaram, Maduravoyal, Mugappair and Ambattur. The Maduravoyal lake has shrunk from 120 acres to 25. Ditto with Ambattur, Kodungaiyur and Adambakkam tanks. The Koyambedu drain and the surplus channels from Korattur and Ambattur tanks are missing. Sections of the Veerangal Odai connecting Adambakkam tank to Pallikaranai are missing. The South Buckingham Canal from Adyar creek to Kovalam creek has been squeezed from its original width of 25 metres to 10 metres in many places due to the Mass Rapid Transit System railway stations. Important flood retention structures such as Virugambakkam, Padi and Villivakkam tanks are officially abandoned.

Capacity reduction

Before political rivalry between the two Dravidian parties brought it to a midway halt, an ill-advised Elevated Express freight corridor from Chennai harbour to Maduravoyal had already reclaimed a substantial portion of the Cooum's southern bank drastically reducing the flood-carrying capacity of the river.

Remarkably, all these causes were listed out by the government's own officials at a seminar on waterways organised by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority in 2010. But there seems to be many a slip between enlightened understanding and enlightened action.

The Second Masterplan prepared by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority glibly authorises built-up spaces with no regard to hydrology. In the Ennore region, the authority has reclassified waterbodies, intertidal zones and mangrove swamps as “Special and Hazardous Industries” and handed it over to the Kamarajar Port Ltd.

In Ponneri, a town in a rural part of Chennai Metropolitan Area, developers are executing  Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority-approved plans with no regard to drainage. Last weekend, Ponneri received 370 mm of rain – 135 mm more than Chennai did. While it suffered from flooding, damage to property and life was not high. Ponneri is slotted to be developed as a Smart City. But will our dumb engineers be able to build a smart city?

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45% consumers purchase financial products online according to our survey. Here’s why

How one of the last bastions of offline transactions is rapidly moving online.

With flight bookings, shopping and buying movie tickets all moving online, it was only a matter of time before purchasing financial products followed suit. In fact, with greater safety, better user interfaces, simpler processes and of course, busier lives, many Indians are opting to buy financial products like insurance and bank deposits online and on-the-go rather than at a bank branch.

We conducted a survey among 150 consumers in 4 metro cities (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad) and 2 tier-II cities (Indore and Bhopal) to understand the financial products Indians are buying online and their needs.

The market for financial products still has huge potential for growth with 29% respondents reporting that they owned no financial instruments. Insurance is without a doubt the most widely owned financial instrument for Indians. Nearly half the sample—45% of the respondents—reported investing in insurance. Apart from that, around 27% invested in bank deposits like Fixed and Recurring Deposits and only 13% opted for mutual funds, 13% bought stocks, and just 10% took home loans. While many people still consume financial products only at their bank branches, a large number have started seeking financial information and buying financial instruments online.

The shifting tide

We found that 45% of the survey respondents bought financial products online, indicating that a large chunk of Indians is trusting the internet to manage something as sensitive as their financial investments. It is clear that Indians value the distinct advantages of transacting online. Convenience is an integral part of the experience—60% of those who bought financial products online felt that convenience played an important role in choosing to purchase online. Multiple aspects of convenience resonate with buyers—over 40% felt that the availability of 24/7 services and the ease of comparing different products from drove them to buy online.

However, findings also reveal some concerns that even tech-savvy Indians have with the online medium.

Security is king

Understandably, security is a key factor for buyers of financial products. Even among the 45% who purchased financial products online, almost half felt that the lack of security prevented them from buying more financial products online. Tellingly, the most commonly bought financial product online is general insurance. It has to be bought (in the case of travel) or renewed (in the case of car insurance) regularly and quickly, which is easier done online. It also doesn’t require the submission of too many personal documents—another­ factor reported by many as a barrier to online purchase of financial products.

To overcome these security concerns, many companies are taking concrete steps to improve the online security of their portals. They are setting up SSL security systems that encrypt and protect the user’s data and payments and are educating customers on how to recognize online payment scams. Thus, people are slowly moving towards buying high involvement financial items like life insurance as well online.

The human factor

Research is a crucial part of the buying process, and most buyers seek information from multiple sources. While research for several consumer products like electronics and furniture has moved online even if purchase is offline, financial products have been slower to move, especially due to the need for expertise. From the sample, 55% rated talking to financial consultants and advisors as very important. Similarly, 55% rated advice from friends and family as very important.

As is evident, while the world is going online, there is something to be said for the familiarity and comfort of human interaction. Even online buyers value non-digital channels of communication. Of those who bought financial products online, 25% felt that visiting bank branches was important, 30% felt that recommendations from friends and family was important, and 33% felt that discussing it with financial advisors was important.

However, we find that online forums and aggregators are also gaining in terms of people using them to research products. According to a BCG report, search queries on life and health insurance have grown 4.5 times from 2008 to 2013, showing that digital is certainly influencing the research part of the buying cycle. Many life insurance companies and banks have caught on to this trend and are finding ways of making customer service executives available online through chat facilities on their portals. Additionally, companies are also investing in a better online user experience by designing their websites to be simple, attractive and easy-to-understand, so that the process of purchase becomes easier for customers.

When it comes to buying insurance, finding an appropriate plan is not an easy process. Life insurance companies are using technology and algorithms to overcome these human biases with innovative products like life insurance calculators. An example of this is the HDFC Life insurance profiler which simplifies the process of choosing an insurance plan. A person can enter five to six parameters and get an objective opinion on the best insurance plan suited to his or her time and status in life.

HDFC Life Insurance has also taken detailed note of its customers’ requirements as they move towards the digital age. Its product website has been designed to ensure consumers feel secure and well attended to when transacting online. All payment gateways have SSL security and are ISO 27001 certified to ensure optimum security. Additionally, to facilitate easy query resolution, it offers an online chat function along with co-browsing where a user can give control of her or her system to the chat executive so that details can be filled in for them. To solve for the barrier of document submission, HDFC Life even allows users to submit documents through e-mail or upload files on Google drive in place of hard copies. Easy e-KYC facilities allow for the Aadhar card and address proof to be uploaded online to quickly verify identity. To find the right insurance plan for yourself and experience the innovative services that the organization has to proffer head to their insurance profiler to start your journey towards buying a life insurance plan.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HDFC Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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