600 families 'jailed' by police quarters in Chennai

8-ft-tall barricade in Pullapuram blocks 2,000 residents from accessing land that connects them to PH Road
The residents are allowed to access six water tanks installed on the land inside the police quarters through a gate, but not beyond that  | R Satish Babu
The residents are allowed to access six water tanks installed on the land inside the police quarters through a gate, but not beyond that | R Satish Babu

CHENNAI: A 150-metre-long barricade erected by Tamil Nadu Police Housing Board authorities behind the Kilpauk Police Quarters three years ago has upended the life of nearly 2,000 people living at Pullapuram. The plastic barricade, eight-foot-tall in most places, blocks the residents from accessing a piece of land that connects their settlement with the arterial Poonamalle High (PH) Road.

About 600 families living on the 1.8-acre Pullapuram slum have to walk 800 metres to reach PH road. The families had unhindered access to the land passing through the quarters for nearly 50 years but after being blocked out, they had to use just a 2.5ft-wide narrow lane, where even two people have to walk one behind the other, to reach the road for catching a bus, buying essential goods, or collecting water from tankers. Even a fire engine or an ambulance cannot reach them through the lane.

Senior police officers said the barricades were put up as a temporary measure to address the safety concerns of families living in the quarters. Pullapuram residents, however, say the land was given to them by the district collectors in 1980s but the promised patta for the land never came true.

At least 320 small concrete or thatched-roof houses line up the eight narrow and long-winding streets of the settlement of predominantly daily-wage labourers. The barricade that runs along the entire settlement, blocks even sunlight and fresh air to the houses.

When daughter of K Kumar, a resident of Pullapuram, died, he didn’t even have space to place a freezer box in front of his house as the barricade was erected right next to his home. “My daughter was electrocuted due to bad wiring in the area. Because of the barricades, we were forced to place the freezer box near the entrance of the locality,” Kumar said.

After authorities erected the barricade, entrance to the house of G Elisammal, 67, who lives on Pullapuram Fifth Street for the past 40 years, was blocked completely. “I had to break open the wall on the other side to enter my house,” she said.

Though authorities allow them to access six water tanks installed on the land inside the police quarters through a gate to fetch water, the families cannot enter the area for any other purpose. Also, because of the small gate and the barricade, residents have to walk with their pots for long distances to collect water.

Considering the problem faced by the families, Chennai Corporation’s Kilpauk zonal officer wrote a letter to the police housing board on August 4 requesting it to remove the barricade. “The barricades are a disturbance to pedestrians, vehicle-users and commuters to host family functions and funerals,” the letter said.

Police sources, however, said the road belongs to the police quarters. “In the past, several youngsters from the locality had indulged in criminal activities. Three murders have taken place in the locality and violence due to ganja is a menace,” a police officer who resides in the quarters said.

“A police officer on night rounds was beaten up by a gang of youngsters for simply asking them to go home,” another officer said. A senior police officer under whose jurisdiction the police quarters falls, said, “There is a case pending in a local court. The land is not a thoroughfare for public use.”

“Members of Pullapuram residents’ welfare association, however, said they are not aware of any such case. Even when the government installed six hand pumps for us, it was done on this piece of the land. Because of the barricade, we now have unhindered access to only one hand pump as the other five are on the other side of the divide, they said.

Speaking to TNIE, Parithi Elamsurithi, ward 99 councillor, said, “I’ve raised the issue several times and the zonal officer had forwarded a letter to police housing board officers to remove the barricade. But no action has been taken yet. Families residing in police quarters even resent me for this.” A corporation official said, “The road belongs to police housing board and we have forwarded a letter to the board asking it to take action at the earliest on the issue.”

E Nagabhushanam, president, the Pullapuram residents’ welfare association, said, “Most of the residents in Pullapuram belong to SC community. Two years ago, we forwarded a petition to the CM’s cell stating that the barricade was erected as a discrimination wall against us. But there was no response."

E N Chinna, 31, a resident, said, “Police use the empty space to dumb seized cars and motorbikes. Snakes use them as nesting ground. Several snakes have entered the slum threatening the lives of people.”

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The New Indian Express