Monday, 14 April 2014

Track realignment for MRTS line derails lives of many families

Last week, the Madras high court cleared what is arguably the final hurdle in the completion of the Chennai mass rapid transport system (MRTS) project by dismissing writ petitions filed by a handful of residents from Thillai Ganga Nagar in Adambakkam, who protested against land acquisition for the project.

Residents of Thillai Ganga Nagar who are to lose their homes to the MRTS project
The completion of the final stretch of elevated railway line between Velachery and St Thomas Mount had been hampered by a delay in acquisition of just a 500-metre stretch in the densely populated neighbourood of Jothi Garden Layout, Jeevan Nagar and surrounding areas, affecting barely 17 homes.

While the verdict has brought cheer to civic planners, railway authorities and the general populace, the 17-odd families who are to lose their homes have plunged into despair.
Mr K. Ramasundaram (72), who lives in Jothi Garden Layout with his family, claims that he had his first heart attack a few years ago when news first came that his home would have to go to pave way for the railway track.

The septuagenarian has served Indian Railways in various capacities from a locomotive pilot to a deputy chief engineer for close to four decades. “I am still unable to come to terms with the railways taking away my home where I have lived for the last 30 years,” says Mr Ramasundaram.

When he bought his plot in Jothi Garden Layout during the late ‘70s and built his home a few years later, he was among the first few to get a proper CMDA approval and all the necessary clearances from various government bodies. “After so many years, they want me to let go of my home,” he says.

Ironically, almost all the families that are affected by this acquisition are retired government servants who are in their sunset years having lived in this neighbourhood for three to four decades.

Retired inspector of police K. Velusamy (65) lives in Jeevan Nagar with his family and built his home in 1983. “We do not find fault with the HC verdict as the judges have ascertained the case based on the material available with them. Unfortunately, we have not been fairly represented,” he says.

Velusamy points that the original route planned for the MRTS line in 2006 did not go through their homes but passed through vacant land (poramboke land) adjoining a canal a few 100 feet away.

“Since then, local politicians have sold the poramboke land to various private parties for a hefty sum and had assured them that their land would not go when the railway line comes. It is sad that the realignment has been done to protect the interests of those people and not us who built our homes with CMDA approval,” says Mr Velusamy.

Mr Ramasundaram points out that he was even approached by the politician’s henchmen for a bribe to protect his home. “We are retired people living on a meagre pension. Where do we go for money?” he asks.
While the HC verdict has been a severe blow to the residents here, what’s worse is that nobody has approached them with any kind of compensation package so far.

When other homeowners in Alandur lost their property for the metro rail project, they were compensated adequately following a series of discussions. “When we approached the local tahsildar, he said they will be providing Rs525 per square foot of land while the going rate here is around Rs 8,000 per square foot,” points out Mr Velusamy.

He points out that while compensation guidelines have been revised recently to benefit those who lose their 
land, local officials claimed that they were not eligible for the revised rates as their project was approved before the ruling.

As the implications of the HC verdict slowly sink in, the residents here claim that they will wait for the compensation package and decide on further action. “If needed, we will go to the Supreme Court,” says Mr Velusamy.

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