Porur and Ramapuram are two neighbourhoods which were only recently included in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) limits in 2013. But long before the inclusion and subsequent formation of resident associations here, Ramapuram was largely an isolated place with cultivable lands.
“Alcohol brewing was the main occupation back in the 1980s when the neighbourhood was a village. In the early 2000s, people began to settle here, educational institutions and firms were established and that is how the locality began to develop,” recalls PV Kishore, a resident of Ramapuram since 1984.
Kishore adds that groundwater was the only source for drinking water then, which was available at a depth of just one feet. However, as the years went by, the lake began to be encroached and abused to satisfy human need and greed. Since lakes recharge the water table of the neighbourhood, such abuse led to a water crisis in the locality.
In 2015, when residents of the neighbourhood got together to form the Ramapuram Social Welfare Federation, the office-bearers pledged to reclaim the rights of residents to the lake. They have been putting up a staunch fight since then.
“The actual size of the lake was 25 acres. When we compared the revenue maps, we realised that it had shrunk to around 2 acres. While passing by the lake we noticed several huts being constructed on the lake bed. We understood that they too were trying to encroach the lake bed permanently, but we immediately stepped in and wrote to the civic body and managed to stop them,” said A Paul Dhas, president, Ramapuram Social Welfare Federation.
In 2016, the Chennai Corporation sanctioned Rs 1 crore for rejuvenation of the lake but Paul tells us that only the bund construction has been completed till date. The Federation has filed a case with the Madras High Court demanding the restoration of the lake and full eviction of the encroachers.
Even as the case is still on, residents are hopeful and determined about bringing the lake back to its old glory now that they are actively working on the cause.
A new park
Years ago, there had been a demand for residents for a public park in the neighbourhood for recreation and relaxation.
In the early days of settlements emerging in the locality, employees of Rayala Corporation had been allocated lands in the Rayala Nagar layout in Ramapuram by the company itself. The part of the land that had actually been reserved for recreation and development of other amenities remained in the possession of the real estate developer for a long time.
The developer had transferred the ownership of much of the layout to his family members illegally, so that the common areas were never developed as they were initially meant to be. Neither was there any impetus from the government to develop the land into a park, as requested by the residents.
“I befriended an IAS officer who helped me solve the issue legally. I filed a petition at the Madras High Court requesting the developers to hand over the OSR space to the government. Soon, we formed an association and suggested that the land be converted into a park. That was how the Corporation Park came to be established in 2019,” said Kishore, who also serves as the vice-president of Ramapuram Social Welfare Federation.
The creation of Miyawaki forest on another OSR land near the Rayala Nagar park has increased the green cover in the neighbourhood. Last February, the Greater Chennai Corporation established an urban forest through the Miyawaki method. About 762 tree saplings of 45 different species were planted in a plot of 10,000 sq ft. The federation and corporation plan to hold a small celebration in February 2021, which will mark one year of the sapling plantation.
Kishore says that the fight to get a park was pursued for over 20 years. “We have to be persistent and pursue an issue till it’s solved. Formation of the association also played a key role in this,” he adds.
Kamarajar Salai and Thiruvalluvar Salai are two arterial roads that connect Ramapuram with KK Nagar and Butt Road, respectively. Despite being arterial roads, they are riddled with problems. The Metrowater agency had dug up the Kamarajar Salai for implementing one of their projects, but did not fix the road.
“The agency did not complete the work in one stroke and works in spurts. This is causing huge inconvenience to the road users as the arterial road is in really bad condition,” says Paul.
“As in the case of other infrastructural work, the civic body blames Metrowater and vice-versa. The lack of coordination is bothering the citizens,” Raja adds. The Zonal Executive Engineer was unavailable to comment on the issue.
Adding to the existing problems, several shops have encroached the sidewalks of the two arterial roads. S Raja, secretary of Ramapuram Social Welfare, adds that these shops violate the zoning rules, and are therefore illegal. The road has become one-way due to the encroachment of the shops. The residents have sought support from their MLA P Benjamin, who has also inspected the sites.
But has anything really come out of such inspection? Unfortunately, not much. “The Minister makes a perfunctory visit before the elections but does not take any concrete measures subsequently to ensure resolution of the key issues or fulfilment of our wishes,” said one resident who has been living in Ramapuram for over three decades.
Wish list of citizens
1. Direct bus facility to localities such as Broadway, T.Nagar
2. Residents state that the underground drainage system is a failure in Ramapuram and they have to shell out Rs 1,500 to private tankers for pumping out sewage; this needs to be addressed at the soonest.
3. Good hospital facilities
Importance of an active citizenry
But even as there are miles to go before all their wishes see the light of the day, the residents of Ramapuram have been demonstrating over years why and civic participation and working with government machinery is crucial for the development of any area.
Observations by long-time residents illustrate how the neighbourhood has transformed over the years. “When I shifted here 12 years ago, the civic infrastructure was not even close to what it is now; what has happened is largely the outcome of the citizen movement. The complaint mechanism has also evolved significantly, wherein the residents’ association actively encourages citizens to share their concerns and get them resolved,” said S Vasudevan, a resident of Kurinji Nagar.
Alby John, Regional Deputy Commissioner (South), Greater Chennai Corporation welcomes the citizen participation here. “Our experience working with the associations has been quite satisfying so far. It is inspiring to witness ordinary people coming together to organise clean-up drives in Ramapuram lake and show interest in creating and maintaining urban forests in Division 152 and 153 (Rayala Nagar),” he says.
Usha Arasu, a former reporter who has written about the neighbourhood extensively, says, “There is a strong connection between the residents and the association in Ramapuram which is the reason they have been able to identify the key civic problems and escalate them to the right authorities. The associations attach special importance to green cover and water bodies in their neighbourhood.”