‘Complaint’ over encroachment puts question mark on tuition centre for poor kids

Tuition classes offered by ‘Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai’ at JJR Nagar in Vyasarpadi was served an eviction notice on October 7.
Students attend class at Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai | Express
Students attend class at Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai | Express

CHENNAI:  As evening falls, children, ranging from classes 4 to 12, rush to attend the tuition classes offered by ‘Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai’ at JJR Nagar in Vyasarpadi. However, the last two weeks have been precarious for the group with 260 students, after the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNHUDB) served an eviction notice on October 7. The citizen group Vyasai Thozargal, which runs the centre, has been requesting officials to cancel the notice and allot the land for running the centre. 

The centre had received a similar notice to vacate in 2020, apart from three police complaints over the years. “Through an RTI, we found out the complainant had filed the eviction notice at the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and it was forwarded to the Slum Clearance Board,” said advocate Sarathkumar, who is also a member of the group, adding the complaint was later stayed. In 2020 and 2021, the group submitted request letters and resident signatures to officials including the Managing Director of the Slum Clearance Board for the allotment of this land. 

“Two years later, it’s the ditto complaint, without a change in wording. We agree that we are using this land, but we are using it for public purposes. We are working for equality under Ambedkar’s name,” says Sarathkumar, urging the government to allot this parcel to them. The group said the complaint is devoid of any merits.

According to the notice, the land has been encroached upon and contains a well and motor. “Around 30 years ago, people built a well on this land and there was a motor set. This is what the notice keeps saying. Since there was no water, they closed it (well). It turned into a garbage dump. We cleaned and turned it into this,” said Vijayalakshmi S, part of Vyasai Thozargal. 

Vyasai Thozargal, registered as a trust in 2023, began this tuition centre in a portion of a nearby house in 2017. Two years later, they pooled funds from their pockets and other residents to transform the garbage dump into a tuition space for first-generation learners from Vyasarpadi and across the city. Many belong to single-parent SC families or are children of daily-wage labourers. 

“Since it is an interior location, there isn’t that much access or education, this tuition centre engages them from a young age to prevent them from engaging in unwanted activities,” said Nancy N, a teacher in the group. Over the years, Vyasai Thozhargal has worked for development in the area, relief works during the 2015 floods and received the best NGO award from the GCC Commissioner. 

If there was an allotment, we could run this centre more freely, said Vijayalakshmi. Vigneshwari, a class 11 student in a nearby government school, is one among the centre’s students. “I have been coming here since Class 9 and since then I have been getting good marks. It is easier to study here than at home.” A TNHUDB official said, “If the group is doing good work and is genuine, we should help them out. We need to look into the matter.”

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