Monday, December 20, 2010

Old colonies disappear fast in KK Nagar as builders take charge






It’s difficult to believe today that not too many years ago – in the early 1970s – there was really no proper approach road to KK Nagar, that there were hardly any buildings that dotted the landscape, and that most of the area was made up of paddy fields and poromboke land.

Gnanasundaram, who runs a provision store, and who arrived in KK Nagar in 1972, one of the first, recalls how he could make out people walking from Ashok Pillar – there was no building or construction to destroy his field of vision. Indeed, every night there would be two men at Pillar, stopping strangers heading towards KK Nagar and MGR Nagar, to verify which house they were going to visit, at times even accompanying the stranger to the designated place to ensure he was not lying. Gnanasundaram says every street had no more than a dozen families, and every evening two residents volunteered to keep vigil through the night. Today, he doesn’t even know half his neighbours.

The development of KK Nagar began in the early 1970s when the Tamil Nadu Housing Board set up flats near Pullayar Koil. In the mid-1970s, Housing Board flats (the HIG type) came up on what is today Anna Main Road – Sowbhagya, Sangeetha and Ashok Colonies. Soon, similar buildings came up on Rajamannar Salai, PT Rajan Salai and other places in KK Nagar. The establishment of Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar in 1975 gradually led to more people taking up residence here and many moved into these Housing Board flats because they found them roomy and convenient.

Earlier, the trickle began when a few of those who had invested in the flats moved in. With lack of proper civic infrastructure, not many were willing to set up home with families. But the school soon changed all that and as it happens with development, other buildings came up, smaller schools, doctors’ clinics, pharmacies and more petty shops.

AR Nair, a long-time resident of the area who moved into Sangeetha Colony in 1976, immediately after the flats were ready for occupation, says he often had to go to Ashok Pillar to catch a bus to office. The bus service from the KK Nagar bus depot was skeletal. He stresses that the flats built by the Housing Board then (during the Emergency) were of very good quality because there was a fear then of resorting to corruption or producing shoddy work. He adds that most of the flats were south-facing and built based on an excellent plan, so that there was adequate ventilation, the bedrooms had privacy, there was a puja room, the kitchen had a storeroom and a cleaning area, all of which you do not see in the houses of today. More than anything, all these colonies had huge open areas ideal for walking and playing games and the early residents built up a rare bonhomie that continued over the years.

Sadly, over the years, maintenance has been very poor in most of the Housing Board colonies with the result that what was once a splendid place residents could show off to friends is today a place you would rather hesitate to call your friends. For, not only do the façade of many of these buildings tell a sorry tale, the interiors have also suffered damage, with leaking roofs, plaster peeling off walls and solid crack on several parts of the construction. In some cases, it has become dangerous for residents with cracks on the foundation structure as well.

No wonder then that many of the old-time residents in almost all the Housing Board colonies in KK Nagar have decided to open the doors to private builders who are only too eager to capitalise on the opportunity.

Some of the offers are indeed tempting. You get a new flat of about 1,600 sq ft built-up area (old flats are about 1000 sq ft), a down-payment of Rs 20 lakh or thereabouts, the builder pays you rent (Rs 12,000 at least) for the construction period, and, significantly, happily does all the paperwork for you. What comes as part of the construction are the watchman’s room, a community hall, overhead water tanks, underground sumps, air-conditioners…

Housing Board flats on Rajamannar Sali and PT Rajan Salai were among the first to give their nod for the transformation. As other residents noticed the change and with builders pushing the sales pitch, residents of Sowbhagya, Sangeetha and Ashok Colonies followed suit. However, the going has not been smooth in some places. Petty quarrels, jealousies and egos have caused a lot of heartburn for some. Sad for colonies whose residents have bonded well.

In Sangeetha Colony, for example, one of the blocks was stopped from going ahead with demolition-construction by some of the other residents in the colony. They were against a compound wall being built as it would hinder their movement into and out of the colony on one side, so they said. The argument was of course specious. A case was filed and the matter still rests with the court, after more than three years. Today, ironically, the very people who opposed demolition-construction are in the forefront, talking to builders and finalizing plans for reconstruction of their own blocks.

There are also stories doing the rounds that extraneous forces are trying to stall progress in some cases in an effort to drive monetary bargains and make a fast buck. But these are unsubstantiated. Whatever it is, people who have seen KK Nagar grow from within the windows of their homes in these colonies have finally decided to move with the times. They know that, commercial aspects apart, living in an ill-maintained block is courting disaster. For builders, it’s like manna from heaven… things have never looked better.

Pictures show an old Housing Board building demolished and construction going apace; a typical signboard that builders display; another construction nearing completion; the new that has replaced the old; and some old Housing Board blocks on Rajamannar Salai awaiting the right opportunity.

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