People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 41

October 19, 2008



Thousands March To Fort St George Demanding Free House Sites


CHENNAI city had witnessed on 6 October 2008 one of the powerful rallies of the year starting from Munroe Statue to the Fort St.George, the seat of power in the state. Thousands of people held high the banner of the CPI(M) which had spearheaded the movement demanding house pattas for the homeless people in the rural areas and urban dwellers. Hundreds of residential organisations participated in blocks, represented by their entire families. Of the 30, 000 people mobilised, half of them were women and children. “Provide house pattas to all the homeless people” was the one point slogan that rented the air.

The issue of provision of house pattas to the people has been a long pending demand of the people of the state. With the given phase of industrial growth through special economic zones, land has become a scarce commodity and the real estate prices have increased beyond the reach of common people. The DMK party had stated in its manifesto that it would provide house pattas to the homeless people, if voted to power. After coming to power, they had shown some initial enthusiasm to distribute pattas in various districts. They claim to have given pattas to more than a lakh of people during this period while most of the needy people are yet to receive anything from the government of Tamilnadu. In the meanwhile, the chief minister had recently announced that the scheme of free distribution of land pattas would be over by 30 September 2008. This had created a deep sense of anger against the government. As a party that had been campaigning on this particular issue for the past so many years, CPI(M) organised this protest action.

The process of urbanisation in Greater Chennai and other urban centres like Coimbatore, Madurai, Salem and Trichy is multiplying in leaps and bounds over a few decades. But the housing problems of the people had not been given enough attention. The skyrocketing of land prices and real estate in the recent period had aggravated this problem. The common man cannot think of getting any house for rent, leave alone buying a new one. The daily wagers and marginalised sections of the society over the years had put hutments in the old lakes and ponds which were not in use because of the closing of canals and waterways to it, due to the mushrooming of colonies and houses. Some of the people are living in government lands which are barren and classified as poromboke. Thousands of families are living in hutments in the lands of temples which come under Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Board of the state government. Both the sides of the Buckingham canal are occupied by those who cannot afford to have their own houses in the city. Hundreds of thousands of homeless families are living in such areas without any basic amenities and devoid of any alternative sources of stay or resources to acquire one.

The state government without regularising and giving pattas to them is demanding huge amounts at the market value from such hutment dwellers or seeking their forceful exit. When the CPI(M) took up the matter, the government had promised to look into the matter but they failed to take any meaningful action so far. As against this, they started using force to get the lands occupied by the ordinary people vacated. People mustered courage and had driven away bulldozers and state government/corporation officials who came for taking possession. This had taken place in many centres and the government appeared to have not learnt any lesson from such experiences.

Taking all these into consideration, the CPI (M) had started organising these sections of the people in all areas of Chennai and in other districts. It was planned to have a rally on the 6 October 2008. Sensing the immense response to the rally, the government on 3 October, had announced that the deadline would be extended by one year for provision of free house pattas. However, as promised the rally took place with great enthusiasm. It was beyond expectations that such a mobilisation of people on a question of fulfilling the basic needs of the common man could take place with much ease.

A delegation met the chief minister and submitted the 1.50 lakhs of applications for house pattas. On returning back to the rally, the leader of the delegation N Varadarajan, state secretary of the CPI(M) Tamilnadu state committee, spoke to the thousands of the people on what had transpired in the meeting with the chief minister. The shifting of the last date for provision of pattas by one year is in itself an initial victory that could be achieved by this mobilisation, said Varadarajan. He said that the movement would be intensified if the government is not sincere in the speedy implementation to distribute free pattas on an urgent basis. The collectorates would be picketed by the people on 15 December 2008 if the government fails to act on its word. G Ramakrishnan, Central Committee member, K Balakrishnan, secretary, AIKS, K Balabharathy MLA, T K Shanmugam, Bheem Rao, N L Sridharan and K Natarajan had accompanied N Varadarajan when he met the chief minister. The rally had not only forced the government to change its attitude, although marginally, towards this long pending demand but also had inspired confidence in the minds of the thousands of the homeless that this movement would endeavor to fulfill their longstanding dream of a house, a house of their own.