L. Nandakumar – Facts, Figures & the Truth!

An insight into the professional life of the Chief Engineer (General), Greater Chennai Corporation

Chief Engineer - L Nandakumar

Tamil Nadu has new political leadership. Ever since this change, there have been wild allegations around many officials across many state government departments. One such official is the current Chief Engineer, Storm Water Drains of Greater Chennai Corporation, Mr. L Nandakumar.

Our team tries to ascertain the facts and figures. 

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Before we dwell too much on the issues and allegations, it is necessary to set a Context to the Official Authority & Framework within which Officials are allowed to operate, The Growth of the Official within Greater Chennai Corporation, Achievements, and finally, the controversies.

Chief Engineer's Official Authority in Chennai Corporation

The Head of the Engineering Departments of Greater Chennai Corporation plays the role of ‘implementing’ projects and has little or no role in management or policy decisions except to play an advisory role.

This advisory (or the list of projects) is decided and collated after multiple iterations and discussions with officials, senior bureaucrats (IAS Officers), ministers, public requests, political promises, technical feasibility, sustainability, funding availability, alignment with the funding priorities of the multinational funding agencies among other factors.

Procurement Policy of Greater Chennai Corporation

All the procurement undertaken by the Greater Chennai Corporation has to follow the Tender Transparency Act of the Government of Tamilnadu. Furthermore, for greater transparency, Tenders are being called by the Greater Chennai Corporation through the E-tender system in the www.tntenders.gov.in portal managed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), Government of India since 2014.

No restrictions are framed for the bidders to participate in the above tenders. These tender documents can be downloaded free of cost and are available to all the bidders registered online on the tender website. With the use of a Digital Signature Certificate, anyone can view the tender proceedings.

The digital tendering process is transparent, bias-free, and all the more rule-based algorithms select applying organizations purely based on their qualifying credentials. So to claim that anyone can influence the tender or even restrict access to applying for the tender is entirely fictitious.

Nandakumar's Career Growth within Greater Chennai Corporation

Mr. Nadakumar joined Chennai Corporation (now Greater Chennai Corporation) in 1993 as a humble Assistant Engineer. Through his proven quality of work, he was promoted as Assistant Executive Engineer, almost after a decade, in 2002.

Subsequently, after a decade again, he became Executive Engineer in 2011. In 2016, because of the quality of work and urban projects implemented, he was promoted to the post of Superintending Engineer.

He was eligible to get promoted to the position of Chief Engineer in the year 2009 as per the by-laws and rules in Greater Chennai Corporation and Government of Tamil Nadu. However, due to the lack of vacancy, his actual promotion happened only in the year 2019.

His career growth and rise to the role of chief engineer did not happen overnight. From 1993 to 2021 took many decades to reach the position of executing duties as a chief engineer.

Building Smart government schools, high-quality Bus route roads, constructing mega-streets with pedestrian-friendly pathways, Building Storm Water drains to mitigate flood risk, implementing water restoration programs to increase the water capacity of Chennai are but a few of the many initiatives that the Cheif Engineer has executed. He has truly stood the test of time, with unfazed focus, hard work, and sincerity to implement projects in line with the goals of decision-makers.

The Chief Engineer has many accolades, awards, and citations from various governments, national agencies, and International Non-Profit foundations. It should be noted that Mr. L Nandakumar probably is one of the few officials in the Engineering cadre who has repeatedly been commended by International Development Agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank(ADB), German Development Bank (KfW) & so on. These aid agencies/development banks have a very rigorous and high level of a quality check in their project implementation.

Nandakumar Awards Galore and Work Recognitions:

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Awards
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Citations
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Aid Agency Commendation

If awards a measure of competitiveness and success, then Mr. L. Nadakumar is surely successful. 

Some of the awards and citations received by departments headed by Mr. L Nandakumar in GCC:

  • HUDCO award for Best practices to improve Living Environment “Chennai Street Design Project” (2014-15) – Bus Route Roads Department.
  • Best Non-Motorized Project, Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) – GoI (2014) Best City Award, India Today (2014) – Bus Route Roads Department
  • Volvo Sustainable Mobility Award, Volvo (2014) – BRR Department
  • Voice of India – CITIZENS AWARD, Janaagraha (2014) – BRR, Quality Control & Special Projects
  • Sustania – 100 Award, Sustania Think Tank (2016)
  • Digital Transformation Awards – Smart Cities Mission – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Citizen Service Delivery for the sensory park – Smart Cities Council India – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Social innovation for accelerating the transition to sustainable city award for: Namma Chennai App, 28 smart classrooms, Smart cycle sharing system – Governance Now – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Best Smart Education Solution Award for 28 Smart classrooms -ETGovernment.Com – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • CITIIS Challenge by MoHUA to develop modern & SMART Schools in Chennai – National Institute of Urban Affairs &Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Best Education Solution award for the Smart Class – BW Businessworld 7th Smart Cities Award – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Best Water & Sanitation Initiative Award for Restoration of Water Bodies – ETGovernment.com – 2020 – Smart City & Storm Water Drains
  • Best Water & Sanitation Initiative Award – Restoration of Water Bodies – ETGovernment.com – 2019 – Smart City & Storm Water Drains
  • “DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION AWARD” – For Namma Chennai App, Solar Roof Top, Cycle Sharing System, 28 Smart class – Governance now (A media and public policy organization) – 2019 – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Certificate of appreciation for Infinity Park (Sensory Park) by Chief Minister of TAMILNADU – Special Projects & Smart City
  • Multiple Awards by Greater Chennai Corporation & citations by the Government of Tamil Nadu
  • Multiple mentions in the World Bank in Aid Memoire – Storm Water Drains Department

On-Ground Achievement in Multiple Departments

Throughout his career in Greater Chennai Corporation, Mr. L Nandakumar has worked in multiple departments of the Municipal body like Zones, Storm Water Drains, Special Projects, Bus Route Roads, Quality Control, Buildings Department, Electrical Department, Disaster Management Control Room, Smart Cities (Formerly also held Town Planning & Bridges Department).

To his credit, Mr. L Nandakumar has assisted in institutionalizing policies & implementation of many landmark projects in the City. He is also the nodal officer for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and 100 Resilient Cities Network. Both these non-profit network-based organizations bring global best practices to cities. He has been instrumental in bringing much of this to the benefit of Chennai city.

These implementations stretch across:

Bus Route Roads

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Bus Roads Improved
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Bus Shelters
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sq.km Redesign

The Bus Route Roads(BRR) department of GCC is responsible for maintaining major city roads, typically arterial and sub-arterials, where MTC buses usually ply. They are the lifeline of Chennai city and serve as the critical link for connectivity. Due to the various measures adopted by the BRR department during the leadership of Mr. L Nandakumar, many city roads have become world-class and have needed minimal Maintainance intervention in the last few years. 

During his tenure, Mr. Nandakumar assisted in creating the road infrastructure for the 2 Global Investors meet that attracted investors from 80+ countries from around the world. 

The improvement in the quality of roads has improved the driving experience and reduced travel time; they have also led to a significant increase in lifetime of vehicle tyres. MTC now reports an average tyre life of city buses as 2.5 lakh km compared to only 1.6 lakh km a couple of years back. 

Some of the critical measures undertaken by the BRR department during his leadership are:

  • Quality Control: Created a regulated quality control mechanism for engineers & contractors to adhere to roads’ construction. Based on the quality control process, the following process changes were done:
    • Conceptualized and created the first-ever comprehensive quality control manual for the Greater Chennai Corporation and the detailed operating procedure (DoP) for governance and administration. This was the first-ever complete internal Quality Control Manual for an urban local.
    • Contractors were mandated to install 9m Automatic Sensor pavers at the cost of 2 Crore for ensuring a uniform, smooth-riding surface. (This was to account for uniformity in the road surface and improve ride quality for road users)
    • Contractors were mandated to install Automatic Large milling machinery to mill all Bus Route Roads to ensure the levels of roads maintained at the same level. (This is now the official policy of the Greater Chennai Corporation for protection of private property from flooding due to level variation)
  • Initiated the practice of the Appointment of third-party Project Management Consultants (PMC’s). Their role is to monitor the road works from mixture preparation site to job completion and quality control. This practice at the time was the first for any megacity in India. 
  • All roads were provided with IRC compliance speed breakers with thermostatic lines and reflective studs etc., unutilized space from the carriage was included in making footpaths pedestrian-friendly. This quality control initiative led these roads to withstand heavy monsoon and adverse flood conditions for more than three years, including the 2015 floods.
  • Implemented the redesign & implementation of 471 bus route roads with significant interfacing with Architects to create an NMT-friendly road in Chennai
  • Bus Shelter: Spearheaded the setting up of nearly 400 state-of-the-art bus shelters with vibrant aesthetics and robust design in PPP mode to incentivize public transport usage. This improved the rider experience and provided a safe environment for passengers.
  • Mega-Streets: Conceptualized and assisted in the planning & design of 120 sq. km of Chennai city along with a city-wide NMT masterplan. This project is currently being funded by the World Bank & Government of Tamil Nadu (60:40). The implementation of the project will begin in May 2021.  

Storm Water Drain/ Resilient Infrastructure for Climatic Adaptation

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kms of Storm Water Drain Managed
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New Drains Constructed
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Rainwater Harvesting Catchpits Created

In a city with increasing population and urbanization, land-use changes from agricultural to residential is happening rapidly. This land-use conversion has led to significant challenges in the form of water-related adaptation challenges. For example, the City is exposed to extreme weather events like floods and drought. Climate Change further exasperates this challenge. 1 in 100 year floods are becoming increasingly common. Storm Water Drains can help to minimize that risk and facilitate the movement of water into the bay. This protects the properties, people & other assets.

SWD department is responsible for providing a climate-resilient city.

“The 1 in 100-year flood of 2015 was a turning point in the history of Storm Water Drain Department” recalls Mr. Nandakumar. Not only in terms of scale, but it also identified the urgent need for Storm Water Drain Infrastructure in the added areas of Chennai Corporation. Since Chennai has been exposed to both floods and drought in successive years, retaining rainwater is also critical. During the tenure of Mr. Nandakumar, the SWD department have achieved the following feat: 

  • Adyar & Cooum Basin Storm Water Drain Network: Led the planning & implementation of the stormwater drain network for 406 km with a total project value of US $ 200 million implemented in a record time of 2 years. This project benefits the citizens of Zone 12 – Alandur, Zone 11 – Valasaravakkam & Zone 7 – Ambattur in the core city. The World Bank funded this project. 
  • Kosathalayar Basin: Led the planning & now guiding the implementation of the stormwater drain network for 769 km with a total project value of US $ 500 million to be implemented in 2 years. This project will benefit about 1.44 million citizens in North Chennai. The project is being funded by The Asian Development Bank (ADB). This project will complete in the next 3 years. 
  • Kovalam Basin: Led the planning of the stormwater drain network for 360 km with a total project value of US $ 200 million. This is currently being implemented. This project will benefit about 1.6 million citizens in South Chennai. The KfW Bank is funding this project. 
  • Water Body Restoration: Led the planning and implementation of 210 water bodies. This initiative restored about 2 TMC of water within the municipal boundary, leading to significant groundwater levels, improving local adaptation, and reducing flood risk in various parts of the City. This project is slowly in progress due to COVID and will be completed by 2022.

Special Projects & Smart Cities

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Projects Implemented
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km Pedestrian Plaza Created
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million Citizens Benefitted

National Smart Cities Mission is an urban renewal and retrofitting program by the Government of India to develop smart cities across the country, making them citizen-friendly and sustainable. Chennai is one of the 100 smart cities chosen by the this mission under the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA).

When discussing the Smart Cities Program of Greater Chennai Corporation, it must be noted that Mr. L Nandakumar was instrumental in improving the Smart City Rankings since he started heading the Special Projects Department, which Smart City Operates. Chennai, which was in the last 10 Smart Cities in 2017, has moved up and is now considered within the top 3 smart cities in the country. 

Some of the very specific achievements under his leadership of the Special Projects are:

  • Institutionalized the Special Projects Department and formulated the basic framework & aligned projects outside the scope of current departments into this department. 
  • Created a strong vision and roadmap for the department for planning & execution
  • Led the Chennai Smart City program implementation for all 38 initiatives and projects. These projects range from water bodies, smart classrooms, roads redesign, Integrated Command Control Centre, stormwater drains, etc.  
  • Conceptualized the modalities and implementation framework for Smart Parking Management and Cycle Sharing in the City, which are the first of its kind projects in Indian cities. 
  • Integrated Command & Control Center: Assisted in creating the Integrated Command & Control Center that is a single platform for convergence and intelligence for the City of Chennai. This is being done at the cost of Rs 150 Cr. by funding from the Government of Tamil Nadu, Greater Chennai Corporation, and Smart Cities Mission. The ICC offers a single platform for solutions across disaster management, city surveillance, solid waste, digital signage, street light monitoring, smart pole, environmental sensors, mobile command & control, among others.
  • Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITMS): Assisted in the conceptualization and the tendering of the Rs 660 Crore traffic management solution for 159 junctions of Chennai City. This project has components across the traffic police, MTC, Greater Chennai Corporation & Chennai Smart City Limited. This project is being jointly funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency & the Government of Tamil Nadu.
TNagar Pedestrian Plaza

Special Projects & Smart Cities

If you have been to T-Nagar Pondy Bazaar recently, you will notice that the parking chaos has come down significantly. This is due to the newly constricted Multi-Level Car Park (MLCP). All the cars and bikes coming to this commercial section of the town can be assured of a parking system. See more about our coverage of other smart city projects here.

T-Nagar - Multi Level Car Park

Villivakkam Lake Restoration

Few citizens would know about the great work done by his department in Villivakkam Lake. He is instrumental in the restoration of Villivakkam Lake. Thanks to the great follow-up, right from the design to implementation, he is actively involved in the project. This project is spread over ~40 acres and reduces flooding in the surrounding areas like villivakkam, koratur & paid. 

Villivakkam Lake Restoration led by Mr. L. Nandakumar

Education (Initiative under Smart City)

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Schools to be Improved
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Students to be impacted
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% improvement in GER

The Education department of Greater Chennai Corporation operates 281 schools, comprising 119 Primary Schools, 92 Middle Schools, 38 High Schools, and 32 Higher Secondary Schools. More than 83,000 students are studying in these schools in the year 2019-2020.

Mr. L Nandakumar led the operational side of The “Model & SMART Corporation Schools” projects. The project is a comprehensive, holistic school-transformation program launched by the Chennai Smart City Limited (CSCL) and the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). It is jointly funded by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the European Union (EU), and the CSCL. The project is designed to holistically transform 45 Chennai Schools in a phased manner, while specialized components, such as teacher training and sports coaching, will be implemented across all the 281 Chennai Schools. Both Hard and Soft Infrastructure will be improved as part of the project. The project works on the transformation of the following pillars, namely: Physical Infrastructure, Digital Infrastructure, Pedagogical Innovation, Extra-Curricular Activities, Teacher Training, Collaboration & Convergence.

Smart Class Room
Chennai Smart Classroom

Disaster Management & Flood Control

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tonnes silt removed
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Emergency calls managed
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Trees Cleared after Vardah

The Greater Chennai Corporation operates the flood control room during monsoon season, and it serves as the primary point of contact for citizens during climate disasters. Actively led the Control Room during and after the 2015 Floods and the 2019-20 North East Monsoon Season, which saw Chennai received the highest rainfall in one hour. Some of the areas where Mr. L Nandakaumar played an important role in this department are: 

  • Played an extremely critical role in flood control, relief operations and rehabilitation after the historic 2015 floods and Vardah Cyclone. As flood management officer in critical coastal zones of the City, played an essential role in real-time relief and rescue, damage control, and coordination with multiple agencies to ensure normalcy was restored within days after the monumental catastrophe.
  • Led a team that successfully removed around 30000 tons of silt, water hyacinth, and trash in important rivers in Chennai by leveraging technology and modern equipment such as Amphibian Vehicle and Robotic Excavators from Finland and Liechtenstein, respectively.
  • Facilitated the preparation of the first official Green House Gas inventory for the City of Chennai (This is the first for a megacity in India) in collaboration with 12 line agencies of the Government of Tamil Nadu
Integrated Command & Control Room

Bridges

Bridges assist in the faster movement of traffic in a busy city. It is important to build the right design in the right place. To his credit Mr L. Nandakumar has been involved in multiple bridge project like: 

  • Led the conceptualization, tendering, and execution coordination of multiple bridges & grade separator in the City of Chennai. (eg. Vallalar Nagar in Mint Junction, RUB at M.C.Road, Pedestrian cum two-wheeler subway at Rangarajapuram level crossing, Metha Nagar and Pari street)

Capacity Building

When talking to many engineers of Greater Chennai Corporation, we realised that Mr. L Nandakumar has assisted in the training & capacity building of many engineers across departments over the years. Some of the activities are:

  • Have sent many Engineering Staff on capacity building workshops in Europe and other countries.
  • Worked closely with the GCC engineers team & contractor ecosystem to build capacity to create a safe, quality-driven, world-class & durable infrastructure delivering capability with the latest technology and engineering practices
  • Attended seminars, conferences, and workshops in the USA, Europe, China, etc. where crucial lessons on sustainable urbanization was gained
  • Ensured that team members are exposed to international and national capacity-building programs in different places such as France, Jaipur, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad, etc. 
  • Assisted in creating a structured capacity-building program for 3500+ engineers of Greater Chennai Corporation.
  • Assisted in creating a Technical Training program for Engineers in collaboration with the School of Architecture & Planning (SAP), Anna University for all the engineers of the Bus Route Roads department. 

Public Policy

Policy is the primary driver for subsequent action. Sound urban development is always preceded by good policy. Mr. L Nandakumar has been instrumental in assisting policy makers. Some of the various policy he was actively involved are: 

  • Key member in the conceptualization of GCC Sub- Committee for “The Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA),” which was formed in November 2010 to address issues of multiple authorities and overlapping jurisdiction in governing Chennai’s transport sector. As a vital member of the GCC Sub-Committee of CUMTA, he played a critical role in conceptualizing the policy, drafting the CUMTA act and rules. This institution would play an everlasting role in redefining the public transport landscape of the City. (This work is currently actively in progress with support from The World Bank
  • Conceptualized the Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) Policy in 2014 for Chennai City. This made Chennai the first megacity in India to have an NMT policy. Conducted the first-ever NMT Infrastructure meeting. 
  • Conceptualized the ‘Water Body Restoration Framework,’ a robust public-private partnership initiative to restore 210 water bodies. This project has helped the City create an additional storage capacity of 2 TMC, equal to 2 months drinking water supply. This project was shortlisted for the Cities 100 publication. (A publication that compiles the 100 best adaptation solutions from across the world)
  • Key member in conceptualizing the Parking Policy for the City of Chennai. This is likely to reduce the chaos in the streets and significantly improve Greater Chennai Corporation’s revenues.

Allegations & Response

When we put forward the questions to him about the allegations about his name, he said, “I have worked for 28 years with Greater Chennai Corporation, I am too busy working and improving the life of Chennai Citizens & I don’t have the time to respond every time.

Mr. L Nandakumar also confirmed that none of his relatives are working as contractors either in Greater Chennai Corporation or in the Government of Tamil Nadu, nor any members in this entire list of 2000 + Contractors who take part tenders in Greater Chennai Corporation in its history.

Mr. L. Nadakumar said that “Without an IOTA of fact or substantiating elements, blind allegations are thrown at sincere engineers, which is demoralizing and takes away the time we can spend on serious projects.” 

Such accusations have risen in the past every time there is a change in the Government. However, every time the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) has conducted a thorough inquiry on the facts and given a clean chit to Mr. L Nandakumar and submitted the same to the Honorable court.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, some of the officials of GCC said that all of these allegations are nothing more than one arising out of professional jealousy. Mud-slinging is done only to damage the reputation of such an official. 

We asked Mr. L Nandakumar about the critical accusation of tendering in a hurry before elections, to which he responded with proof that “The tendering dates are based on pre-agreed dates agreed with the Asian Development Bank with the Government of India being party to the series of conversations.”

The SOC team independently verified these facts and got the following timelines as per the file, which aligned with the Chief Engineer’s clarification. The projects could have been issued three months prior to the election, but it was more a coincidence to comply with ADB – the funding agency’s deadline, than anything else.

Asian Development Bak (ADB) Guideline for Timelines

Project Strategic Procurement Planning Workshop – Integrated Urban Flood Management for the Chennai – Kosasthalaiyar Basin Project    22-24 January 2020
Master Bid Document Clearance for Phase March 2020
Processing Schedule: 100% IFB shall be published by the time of loan Negotiation December 2020
50% of Packages Contracts ready for Award December 2020
Date of Procurement  Plan as per AIDE MEMORIE
Advertisement: (Total 46 Package)
Phase – I (11 Packages)  (April – June)
Phase – II (18 Packages)  (July – September)
Phase – III (17 Packages)  (October – December)
 All Contracts ready for Award 15 February 2021

In Conclusion

A combination of talent and management skills is more rare in Government Services, even more, the ability to use government resources, coordinate with diverse stakeholders and those in governance. All most all his projects have been delivered On-Time to specifications, almost every time. City governance needs officials like him, who are focused and dedicated to implementing Government plans. Hopefully, his work continues and benefits the city and those in power by leaps and bounds. 

After seeing all his achievements, we where shocked to realize that Mr. L Nandakumar was born with 80% locomotory disability due to polio challenges from birth. It is very inspiring & praise worth to note that he has not let his physical limitation affect his achievements professionally. The next generation of engineers need to learn a lot from such determined and self-driven officials.

The officer is known widely for his technical acumen, expertise, grit, and clear decision making, and the professionally precise execution and adherence to completion of projects to ‘Above the Bar’ Quality standards prescribed by International funding agencies. To have this reputation after 25+ years is completely noteworthy.

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