“Idhu oru nagaratthin porvayil irukkum adippadai vasadhi illaadha oru graamam” – meaning this is a village without basic amenities that exists in the guise of a city.
This is how 33-year-old Sajina describes the area in which she lives.
Karumbukkadai is one of the busiest localities in Coimbatore. Situated adjacent to Ukkadam, a major hub in the city, and with a population of around 60,000, this could have been a self-contained locality where residents could lead a life with dignity. But in reality, Karumbukkadai is just the opposite of self-sufficient.
“Since it’s located very close to major hubs of the city, authorities who plan developmental projects tend to easily overlook this area. They think that this area is fine since it is so close to the city and cannot be missed by anybody. But the truth is that this impression has led to the neglect faced by the people living here,” she says.
With a number of plastic manufacturing industries and traders dotting the narrow lanes, Karumbukkadai remains a neglected locality despite it being partly represented in the TN State Assembly by a minister. The locality is divided between the Thondamuthur and Singanallur Assembly constituencies. While Singanallur is represented by N Karthik of the DMK, Thondamuthur is represented by SP Velumani of the AIADMK, who is also the Municipal Administration and Rural Development Minister.
Lack of Primary Healthcare Centre
Although the locality has a list of complaints, the most important one remains the lack of a Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC). Numerous petitions and complaints regarding this have been given to the authorities, but nothing has been done on the ground.
“The nearest government hospital for us is the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH). Of course, the treatment and medicines will be all free, but it takes a good part of a working day if we decide to go there,” says Sabeer Ali, secretary of Jamaat-E-Islami Hind, an organisation under whose aegis the people of Karumbukkadai have submitted letters to the authorities.
Sabeer adds that since most people in the area depend on daily wages for their income, sacrificing a major portion of the day in a hospital far away is not feasible. The nearest bus stand is about 1.5 km away on all sides and autos charge Rs 80 for a one-way trip to CMCH from Palghat Road. Rates increase depending on how interior the passenger hires the auto from.
“Now the situation is such that we have to go up to the big hospital (CMCH) for a simple fever or headache. The only other option we have here is to approach private hospitals that charge at least Rs 200 for a consultation,” he says.
The locality is divided into two wards – 75 and 86 – and both were represented by independent councillors until their terms expired in October 2016. No elections have been held since then.
Sadiq Ali, the incumbent councillor of Ward 86, tells TNM that the area has secured allocation for a PHC at the cost of around Rs 70 lakh but it is yet to take off.
“It has been more than a year since Minister SP Velumani laid the foundation stone for the PHC. But nothing has happened after that. The area is now a garbage dump,” he says.
Nasser, a resident of Karumbukkadai, says that the ceremony for laying the foundation stone was conducted amidst great show many months back. But now, he says, nobody seems to remember the project.
“They conducted a function as if the PHC was going to sprout out of the land the next day. Many months later, only garbage is seen here. There is no trace of any PHC or hospital. I doubt if the minister himself remembers it now,” he says.
Ambulances also are reluctant to turn up if they know that the caller is from Karumbukkadai area, says Sajina.
“The roads are so narrow that it becomes choked during peak hours. So when we call an ambulance to ferry someone to CMCH and tell the driver the address, there is a 90% chance that he will give some excuse to not turn up or he will ask us to come till the main road (Palghat Road) from where he will pick us up. The purpose of calling an ambulance itself is lost, right?” she asks.
Lack of nationalised bank branch
Another pressing need for the people in this area is banks.
More than 20 petitions have been submitted to the concerned authorities, including the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), requesting for a branch of any nationalised bank.
M Abdul Hakkim, from Jamaat-E-Islami Hind and a third-generation resident of the area, says that the traders and the manufacturers in the locality are dependent on banks on Oppanakkara Street, which is about 4 km away, or Kuniyamuthur, which is 6 km away.
“The traders here have cash circulation every day. They are invariably dependent on banks to run their business. Although we have the means to withdraw cash, we have to travel to some other place if we want to deposit cash,” he says.
Sajina also adds that being from a conservative community, the women in the area are now forced to being dependent on men for the smallest of bank-related tasks.
“We women have started coming out only now. Since the banks are far, we again need to wait for our husbands to come back home to help us to deposit money. We earn money by stitching clothes and doing odd jobs, we want to save some for a secure future. Now we have again been reduced to being dependent on our husbands or sons or fathers for such small things,” she rues.
Perception of being a ‘sensitive area’
One of the major reasons for the banks to informally blacklist the area, according to Abdul, is the fact that Muslims form a majority of the area’s population.
“Since the serial blasts in 1998, we have a feeling that they are sidelining us. This locality is affected because of that unofficial perception among the banks. We have armed guards on vigil in the area and we still don’t know why. The unofficial information that the bank officers have given us for not opening a branch is that this is a sensitive area,” he says.
Adding that people from all communities live in harmony in the area, Abdul tells TNM, “We all helped as one single unit to get the Ukkadam Lake desilted. There is no enmity between us. We are all partners here,” he says.
However, TNM spoke to Venkataraman, the lead banking officer for the area, who said that Karur Vysya Bank (KVB) has expressed interest in establishing a branch in the area.
“Abdul Hakkim and a few others gave a letter requesting for a bank branch in Karumbukkadai two months ago. We have acted on it and now KVB has expressed interest to do the same,” he says. He also added that he is not sure as to why no action was taken on similar requests by the people from the area for the past 10 years.
Some residents wonder if there could there be a political reason behind the neglect.
“We had requested only for the setting up of government-run basic necessities like middle school, proper healthcare centre, sanitation and so on. But now, it has become a political issue for those in power, since we did not vote for the ruling party in Singanallur. Irrespective of a minister representing a part of this area in the Assembly, our lives continue to be abysmal due to all these,” Abdul says.