Siruseri hails the visitor with a wave, impersonal but heartwarming. The Sonallur reserve forest announces the arrival of Siruseri panchayat, tall trees resembling excited onlookers at a welcome parade.
The real Siruseri — one that hides behind half-truths — cannot be understood till you scuff your tyres and shoes through it. It presents nature in the raw, globalisation through technology — think SIPCOT IT park — and an interplay between the urban and the rural.
With its gated communities, Siruseri village in Thiruporur taluk has pronounced shades of a commuter town, one primarily serving an IT workforce, but latches possessively on to its pastoral charms. In Siruseri the IT hub, expect to be greeted by goatherds gathering their herds and residents washing clothes around waterbodies.
Though not as striking as Siruseri in combining seemingly disparate elements, the neighbouring panchayats which also come under the Thiruporur taluk, offer the urban, the rural and the natural in varying mixes.
Until recent years, in these villages, the rural populace and the urban migrants had largely been existing in watertight compartments, the latter confined to their gated existence, and the former frowning upon them as outsiders.
The convenient labels are beginning to look jaded. With gated communities on the increase, there are associations that have been engaging in dialogues with local panchayat officials. So, the IT Professional does make those trips to the panchayat office to iron out the wrinkles in how they get to experience their neighourhood.
As these village panchayats in Thiruporur taluk of Chengalpattu district are going to the local-body elections, this engagement is in stark relief. There are communities that have a ready and handy script as the candidates visit them. There are communities that are eager to host these candidates, and want to listen more than ask questions.
When he was contacted, Pondurai Jayaraj, secretary, Jains Spring Meadows Owners Welfare Association in Thalambur, sounded excited about an upcoming meeting with the candidates.
While engaging with elected panchayat representatives will be a new experience for members of this community, post-polls, the novelty of knocking on panchayat doors has long worn off.
“We have raised 'n' number of petitions about one road that leads to Navallur —Thalambur Main Road, which is narrow and needs to be widened — and the other, to Siruseri, which is pockmarked and in need of urgent mending. The latter goes behind the Siruseri SIPCOT IT Park. Many people use it. The road is damaged, and would be good if it is developed,” discloses Pondurai.
“There have been accidents on the narrow Thalambur Main Road — a couple of software engineers have lost their lives,” says Naga Srinivas, a resident of the gated community Arihant Heirloom, and one of the key members of a green group in Thalambur.
“Are you going to place any demands before them?” Pondurai is asked.
“No.” It is a time for listening.
At Arihant Heirloom, questions were put to the candidates, particularly the question around a dumping ground that nestles uncomfortably close to the Thalambur lake.
“All the candidates have come to our community for campaigning, though their main vote bank lies with people who have been living here for a very long time. All the candidates who have visited us are assuring us that if elected, they would have the dumping ground shifted out,” says R Sivasankar, secretary, Arihant Heirloom Flat Owners Association. Along with another gated community, which is an immediate neighbour — Adroit District — this gated community has been in the forefront of a struggle to send the garbage dump packing. The issue has caught the attention of the Green Tribunal and residents expect it to be conclusively resolved. Sivasankar along with other residents engaged in this campaign believe working with an elected representative would help in the speedy resolution of the issue. Because, elected panchayat representatives can work with greater decisiveness than panchayat officials, they believe.
Though gated communities realise that they may not contribute much to the vote bank now, they do not want to sell themselves short.
Sivasankar points out that Thalambur has more than 30 communities, and going by the experience at his gated community, more residents are trying to transfer their vote from their home town to Thalambur.
“This year, I have applied to have my vote transferred to Thalambur, but am still waiting for my voter's card. I used to go to my village near Cuddapah to cast my vote. Around 30 people from the community have applied for shifting their vote to Thalambur,” says Naga Srinivas who believes the community could account for around 500 votes.
Though residents of gated communities in these village panchayats may seem grafted into the larger community, they have become an inalienable part of it. With time, their points of contact with the rural population, officials and elected representatives have increased.
IT professionals in many of these panchayats have their workplaces at a comfortable distance from their homes, which some would want to cover through alternative routes and modes of transport.
“If the elected representatives work towards laying cycle tracks, a sizeable number of people would stop using cars while commuting to work. For me, my office in Siruseri is only three kilometres away, and if someone can give me a safe route I would cover it by a cycle, avoiding the arterial Rajiv Gandhi Salai. Three to four kilometres can be easily covered by cycle, and it is good for the environment. There are two routes that enable you to reach the Siruseri SIPOT IT park, one of which has great potential. If it is developed, the whole of Thalambur can reach Siruseri taking the route,” elaborates Naga.
Green groups that have emerged out of gated communities promise much in terms of providing sustainability perspectives to the development of these panchayats. These residents-driven sustainability groups also serve as a voice of conscience within their gated communities. As these panchayats are generously endowed with natural resources, some of them biodiversity-rich, these groups can play significant roles in promoting and sustaining green consciousness in the neighbourhood.
A good number of schools in this region are sufficiently new-age to bung green consciousness into their curriculum. For projects, it requires students to study ecosystems in their neck of the woods, a factor that could increase gated communities' engagement with the natural world around them.