CHENNAI: At a time when the State government is leading the country with highest energy surplus, nearly 500 persons belonging to the Dalit community residing in the capital city within the metropolitan area have suffered without electricity for nearly five decades.
Uppukaramedu, an informal cluster of nearly 90 houses in Ambattur, saw electricity for the first time in 2016 only after a local NGO and Christian missionary volunteered to setup solar panels in the area so that each house can enjoy the ‘luxury’ of using one lamp for two hours in the evening, within which they had to complete all their domestic chores. But the panels got damaged and turned dysfunctional during Cyclone Vardah.
In the late 1960s, a group of 10 families from Thiruvannamalai district settled in this area which adjoins the Ambattur railway station. They ventured out of their native areas on account of severe unemployment which followed a crippling drought.
Although the erstwhile Chengalpattu district administration gave them ration cards and voter IDs, other basic amenities including water supply, drainage and electricity were denied since the cluster was considered as an encroachment on the land which belonged to the Indian Railways.
“We have sent multiple representations to various State government agencies for years seeking at least temporary connections until they were given permanent accommodations by the government,” said V Thiruvengadam, one among the first few settlers.
Though it was a very small settlement initially, it expanded after it was brought under the Greater Chennai Corporation limit.
K Sampath, the third person from the locality to pursue collegiate education said that without electricity, school and college students depend on kerosene-lit lanterns to study and during examinations, they stay at relatives’ or friends’ places.
B Chennama, who is seven-months pregnant said that she was unable to sleep all night because of the mosquito menace and had to fan her sister’s child, a two-year-old who along with other children in the area fall sick frequently due to the unhygienic conditions.
“None of the houses have toilets forcing them to defecate out in the open near the railway track. But this becomes risky once it turns dark because of the movement of snakes and other reptiles as well as insects,” she added.
M Ganesh, another resident said that even if the government is not ready to provide electricity, authorities can help in fixing the defunct solar panels so that it will give them some respite.
After all these years, the local body had set up a plastic tank in which water is refilled once in two days. But with tipplers from the nearby TASMAC liquor outlet and restaurants drawing water from this tank, the residents still face a tough time to source their daily water requirement. Every family here hardly gets two buckets of water with which they have to manage two entire days, claim the locals.
An official from the revenue department (Ambattur Taluk) said that power connections can’t be given to Uppukaramedu since people residing there don’t own a patta (secure land title) and plans to shift them to a permanent accommodation are underway.
Vanessa Peter, policy researcher, Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities said: “The government denying electricity or other basic amenities to them for not securing a land title is a denial of basic rights. Even if it was Central government land, the State should have regularised it and shifted them to the nearby Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board tenements in Athipattu (close to Ambattur) by now, if they had coordination issues”.