Living under a cloud of alienation

Inside the alleyways of Chengalchoola are petty shops selling vegetables, household items, and other knick-knacks. The residents say the proposed redevelopment plan will throw the self-contained economy haywire. Photo: S.R. Praveen  

Aji’s ‘thattukada’ near Model School in Thycaud is a favourite haunt for many foodies in the city. Every afternoon, he sets off from the nearby Chengalchoola colony (now Rajaji Nagar) to keep the day’s fare ready by the time customers start arriving, late evening. These days though, he is a vigilant man, keeping an eye on the colony to check whether any officials have arrived to measure the colony, for the government’s planned redevelopment.

The government had, in October last year, announced its plans to construct flats for 1,000 families in the colony area spread over 11.2 acres. A contentious proposal in this was to use around 5 acres of this land to construct a shopping complex. People here, who are united in their opposition to the project, say that no one from the government came here to ask them what they wanted, before this plan was announced.

“Take my case for instance. My family is dependent on this ‘thattukada’ for livelihood. The government wants us to move out of here, rent a place elsewhere, and wait for them to complete the flat complexes. What will happen to my ‘thattukada.’ Most of us who live here are working around here as labourers and in other small-time jobs. Our children study in schools nearby. You can’t ask us to move somewhere else one fine day. All of us, despite our individual political affiliations, are against this project,” says Aji.


The government’s proposal, which they knew through newspapers, is to give each family an advance amount for one year and a monthly rent of Rs.2,000, an amount for which they say they cannot find a home even on the outskirts of the city.

“We are supposed to find a place on rent ourselves. This is only a way to split this close-knit community and reduce our bargaining power,” says Krishnakumar, who does painting work.

Most of the flats here were built in the early 1980s and are in a dilapidated condition. But the families all say that these buildings can survive with some maintenance work.

“The government obviously do not want to do just maintenance as the aim is to evict us all from here and put us up in a few flats so that the rest of the land can be handed over to a private developer for commercial purposes. All these years we lived here, we have not even been given ownership certificates. It is still ‘puramboke’ land in government records and now they want us out of here,” says 48-year old Susheela.

One of the other reasons for their reluctance to move into new flats is the experiences of those who were given a few new flats four years ago. “There is no proper water supply in these new flats. The people in the ground floor get only a thin drip through the tap whereas those in the first floor get these drips only for a few hours in the night. Also, there is the problem of flooding during even slight rains,” says Jayan. Shifting them from the existing 11.2 acres to the planned 5.2 acres will also throw the self-contained economy here haywire, they say. Inside the alleyways are petty shops selling vegetables, household items and other knick-knacks. There are also those who run small eateries and other local services, all of which will become non-functional.

Despite the lure of new flats, all of them say that they are not ready to leave the land which has been home to them for several generations. The people of Chengalchoola, which got its name when bricks were brought from here to build the Secretariat more than 140 years ago, are in not mood to yield to government pressure.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 12:51:21 PM |

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