Families from Burma settled in Kadaperi; Railway officials say they have encroached
In the late 1950s and early 1960s a few families of Indian origin came to Tambaram from Burma and took refuge on an open piece of land sandwiched between the railway line near Tambaram railway station and Grand Southern Trunk Road in Kadaperi.
For more than 50 years now, the residents of Nehru Nagar have been living without access to basic amenities, for the sole reason that they have encroached on Railway land.
“I was born and brought up here. Even after my marriage, I continue to live here. We do not have housing rights and we cannot claim ownership as the land belongs to Railways. But the only basic right we ask for is privacy, at least for girls and women,” said Khairoon Lakshmanan (50).
The locality is situated parallel to the Electric Multiple Unit Car Shed and is bordered by the Railway Quarters on the north and GST Road on the west. Sanitation is the biggest problem faced by residents of Nehru Nagar and the neighbouring localities that come within ward no. 3 of Tambaram municipality. The women have to wake up before dawn and relieve themselves amidst the thorny bushes behind the car shed.
For male residents, including senior citizens, the pavement laid over the stormwater drain along GST Road serves as a public toilet. “Women have to sneak into the bushes and return quickly; otherwise some of the residents in the quarters rebuke them,” said D. Arasu, a resident. He added that it was not easy for men either, as they had to take refuge behind vehicles parked along the road.
There are many residents like Vijaya who have been put to hardship for many decades by the lack of civic facilities. Now over 60, Vijaya said she was only 15 years old when she settled down in the locality after her marriage. She is now being supported by her grandchildren after the death of her husband and son. “If you look around here, you will see there are no roads or drains. Our houses are flooded during the monsoon,” she said.
There are just a few hand pumps and families take turns in collecting water for washing clothes. A couple of roadside plastic tanks have been placed on GST Road for their drinking and cooking requirements.
Southern Railway officials said it was a clear case of encroachment of property belonging to them. “There is hardly anything under our jurisdiction that we can do to help the people living there. Several notices have been issued to them, asking them to vacate the property,” an official said.
Tambaram municipality officials said it was not possible to provide amenities to residents living on land belonging to a different government agency.
The municipality started constructing a small toilet on the pavement, but had to abandon the project after building the basement due to objections from the State highways department. Highways officials said any form of obstruction on pavements could not be permitted.
There are about 150 families in the locality. Men make a living as daily wage earners, while most of the elderly women are employed as maids. The residents’ grievances have been submitted to all Central and State government agencies and a number of activists are supporting their demand for housing, and sanitation.