Eswariamma (60) clearly remembers the life she once led with her husband and daughter in her previous house. The agrarian family used to go fishing at the nearby pond. They enjoyed the fresh air of the serene neighbourhood.
But her dream-like life suffered a drastic change when she and her family were convinced to relocate to Athipattu Pudunagar (East), Thiruvallur district. The concerned officials wanted their land for the North Chennai Thermal Power Station, one of the major power plants in the State. The site was chosen because of its proximity to Ennore Port from where coal was supplied. The plant was commissioned in 1994.
Two decades later, Eswariamma now lives without basic amenities, near open drains and piles of garbage that generate a nauseating stench. Along with Eswariamma’s family, over 500 other families from the area were relocated; over the years, the number has gone up to 800 families. Now, they don’t have access to a government hospital, which they used to in Ennore. They neither have piped drinking water supply, nor an underground sewerage system. These people depend on suburban trains to commute — even during medical emergencies.
“During labour pains, women here wait for suburban trains to travel either to Ennore or Athipattu. Otherwise, we travel by share autos if they are available. For medical emergencies and checkups, people walk to the Government Primary Health Centre in Athipattu, about 2 km away,” complains Menaka, a young mother in the area.
“Back then, we had a government hospital and a good environment. We used to sell our farm produce and we lived peaceful lives,” recollects Shanthi, another elderly woman who was relocated to the area.
In the absence of piped water supply, people here depend on private water suppliers who bring water in tankers. They charge `2 for a pot of water, which the residents say is expensive. “Our hard-earned daily wages are spent to meet basic needs like this,” says Mangalakshmi, another villager.
Before moving out of their land, the officials assured the villagers that each family would be given a compensation of `7,500 for the land, and house pattas for the alternate site. One menber from each family was also guaranteed a job at the North Chennai Thermal Power Station.
Athipattu panchayat president MDG Kathirvel told City Express that the jobs were given as promised. But according to Shanthi, most of the people employed at the power station have retired or died. She alleges that a few people even took up other jobs.
“Till today, none of us got house patta,” says panchayat president Kathirvel. A senior official from the revenue department explained that one member of every family here was given a job at the power plant. However, as per an earlier government order, the revenue department did not give patta to government employees.
“So in this case, the Electricity Board should pay for the land and get patta. But they have been delaying it,” the official added.
The villagers added that panchayat officials too were turning a blind eye to their plight. They claimed that the officials were not bothered to provide them even basic facilities.