Residents around Natharavali Dargah have been suffering silently

For several years now, residents living around the famous Natharavali Dargah have been waking up to the view and stench of a massive open drain that flows in front of their homes.

Although the area is one of the most densely populated, situated in the heart of the city off Old Madurai Road, it is one of the most backward in terms of civic amenities, especially sanitation.

Tucked away behind commercial establishments on the Old Madurai Road, the very location of the residential colonies has made them almost invisible from the public eye. Built around the dargah are a maze of lanes and by-lanes where thousands of people live amidst poor civic amenities. Although the Dargah, housing the tomb of the Sufi saint attract devotees through the year, efforts had not been made to strengthen civic amenities in its vicinity.

A major problem facing the residents is the massive and foul-smelling open drain that runs from Thennur and other parts of the city that joins the Kottai Vaical to ultimately drain in the Cauvery.

Sewerage from hundreds of household toilets and commercial establishments flow into the canal which serves as an important storm-water drain. Some of the residents in the locality have put up wooden planks to cross the open drain from their houses to the narrow pathway that leads out of the colony. On some stretches, wooden planks serve as an extension of the pathway to prevent the old and young from falling into the drain. Children, including students of the government school at Valluvar Nagar, have to walk along the pathway to reach the school. On Tuesday, a section of residents of the area in ward 12 decided that they had had enough and staged a protest. With their mouths covered with clinical masks, they resorted to a demonstration on the Corporation office premises in a symbolic protest to highlight their plight. Some of the women who had joined the protest complained that their children often fell sick and were vulnerable to communicable diseases. “The open drain has turned a major health hazard for the residents in the ward. Every day hundreds rise to the view of the drain as nearly 10,000 people live along its course. The situation has remained the same for more than 20 to 30 years. A couple of years ago, a child drowned in the drain. There have been instances of old people slipping and falling into it. All we want is the drain to be covered. But our representations have gone unheeded,” said A. Abdul Samad, district deputy secretary, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi.

Problems such as open defecation and dumping of garbage can be prevented if the drain was covered. “We are trying to sensitise people too. But given the situation and absence of infrastructure, the efforts will go in vain,” he said.

Officials, Mr. Samad said, claimed that there were many encroachments in the locality and hold out the threat of taking up an eviction operation, whenever people protested. This forced the people to suffer in silence among the unbearable stench.

Mayor A. Jaya, after hearing their grievance during the protest, promised to take steps to close the drain, he said.