Madurai: Members of Wish to Help foundation installed solar panels to light up 28 houses belonging to Kattu Nayakar community – a nomadic Scheduled Tribe for which soothsaying is the prime occupation to this day – on railway land at J J Nagar in Nilaiyur Panchayat this Diwali.
“It took only Rs 2.1 lakh for the whole project to provide individual solar panels to power a tube light and charge mobile phones in each house,” said P R Vishwanathan of the foundation. The lights were dedicated on the eve of Diwali, making it a real celebration of lights for the nearly 230 people in the locality that includes nearly 140 men, women and adolescents and 80 school going children. “Now our children are studying in our homes and we are able to charge our mobile phones without going to adjoining Kaithari Nagar,” said M Chandru, 43, of J J Nagar who with his wife, four children and a daughter-in-law live in a single room hut.
Like Chandru, most huts in the locality hardly have a wall. Some huts are completely made of bamboo. The roof is mostly an old tin or asbestos sheet, making one wonder if they are really homes.
They pay Rs 5 to charge a basic model mobile phone and Rs 10 for a smartphone for a couple of hours at a shop in Kaithari Nagar. “We were given free government televisions when Karunanidhi was CM and free mixers and grinders when Jayalalithaa was the CM. But what use are they without electricity? We sold them for a paltry Rs 500 apiece,” said M R Murugan, president of the community in J J Nagar.
They were among the 50 families that settled at Thenperankundram foothills on the other side of Thiruparankundram in 1952. “We enjoyed electricity connection there till we were forced to leave in 2004 as it was temple land,” Murugan said. He added that 46 families relocated to 38 houses in J J Nagar and lived without electricity since then.
Timely intervention of Wish to Help got them two solar street lights in July. Their plight got the attention of finance minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan. He along with revenue minister P Moorthy, the district collector and corporation commissioner and officials from the revenue and Tangedco departments visited the place last month and provided patta and electricity connections to the houses in the city limits. The rest could not be given one as they are on railway land.