Tamil Nadu: In Focus

Islands of equality are in for a makeover

The Samathuvapuram at Thazhavedu in Tiruvallur district.

The Samathuvapuram at Thazhavedu in Tiruvallur district. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

The Samathuvapurams, also called ‘equality villages’ and ‘egalitarian societies’ that were first established during the M. Karunanidhi regime in 1998 against the backdrop of caste clashes in the southern districts to provide housing to people living below the poverty line of different castes, are in for a makeover, thanks to a State government project. 

But these villages have already undergone several changes in the past over two decades. The lives of many beneficiaries have been transformed after they moved to the Samathuvapurams, even as a large number are yet to see any change in their fortunes.

A visit to half-a-dozen Samathuvapurams in Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts showed these villages have their usual share of problems. Topping the list is the weak structure of the houses which stands out during the rains. Egatha of Thazhavedu, near Tiruttani, Anusuya of Mappedu, also in Tiruvallur district, Suganthi of Enathur in Kancheepuram and Devi of Mambakkam in Chengalpattu point out how inadequate the drainage systems are or how rough the surface of streets in the colonies is. The list of woes includes non-issuance of patta and non-transfer of the electricity connections to the names of beneficiaries.

In Enathur, Suganthi, while standing beside a partially-damaged statue, makes it a point to highlight the domination of “anti-social elements” who treat the space around the fair price shop as their own and make women extremely uneasy.

Yet, their lives revolve around the Samathuvapurams. These colonies have all the features of a township such as a fair price shop, a school, an anganwadi centre, a playground and a mini library, giving the residents some level of comfort, notwithstanding several shortcomings.   Access to  the public transport system is not a major issue. The residents are generally covered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and they emphasise that “we all get paid promptly.”

“People do use the facility,” says the person in charge of the library at the Karasangal Samathuvapuram in the Kundrathur block of Kancheepuram district, adding that three newspapers, including one in English, are available. The space appears to be a problem as a number of bags, full of books, remain unopened. At the time of their formation, it was fine to call the Samathuvapurams ‘equality villages’. But, with the growing urbanisation, the term ‘village’ sounds a misnomer, at least in some of these places in these northern districts.

In the six Samathuvapurams, one can see several people possessing washing machines, refrigerators, and, of course, colour television sets and bikes. Many have got their houses extended beyond the original built-up area of 259 sq. ft. on each of their five-cent plots, which were provided to them free of cost. In the Kuthambakkam Samathuvapuram near Poonamallee, a flashy house has come up, after apparently demolishing the original house. One does not get any idea whether officials of the local bodies concerned collect appropriate property tax from those who have renovated and extended their houses or have got a brand-new house built, as seen in Kuthambakkam.

Despite some pockets of affluence, the Samathuvapurams largely serve as residential colonies of people who are daily wage earners or who are in the informal sector. Conscious of the hardship they had undergone in the past for want of amenities at the Samathuvapurams, the government has come out with a ₹190-crore  project for renovation and reconstruction. As part of the renovation component, minor repairs will be carried out with the participation of beneficiaries themselves. Each house has been allocated ₹50,000. In the case of major repairs or reconstruction of houses, the work will be executed through contractors, who will be chosen through bids. The common infrastructure will be improved through the same process.

The government plans to cover all 238 Samathuvapurams and 23,730 houses in two phases, the first of which is being launched. Initially, 149 Samathuvapurams and 14,880 houses will be taken up. The next round will take care of the rest, and this will be done during the course of the current financial year.

A senior official of the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department says the government is alive to the problems faced by beneficiaries of the colonies and taking all the steps to make their lives “as smooth and comfortable as possible”. Under the present dispensation, the priority seems to be to provide a new hope to the residents, who are longing for a qualitative improvement in their living conditions.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2022 10:48:52 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/islands-of-equality-are-in-for-a-makeover/article65341554.ece