Residents of this housing board quarters in Mogappair West have taken charge of a neglected strip of land and are in the process of turning it into a children’s play area
As a child, B. Rajesh was accustomed to playing the willow game in front of his house on a narrow and long strip of a land near Third Street at the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) quarters in Mogappair West.
The patch, found alongside the Cooum river, would morph into a cricket ground during the weekends, and his schoolmates, many of them living in the same neighbourhood, would flock to it.
Many summers later, Rajesh’s daughter R. Thanushka Shri, now six years old, followed in her father’s footsteps by taking to this patch as a playfield. In March, while playing there along with a few other children from the neighbourhood, Thanushka was hit by a motorcycle and the injuries she sustained caused her to be bed-ridden and undergo sustained treatment and it was three weeks before she could walk again.
As a result of this incident and due to the lockdown, the street and the adjacent patch turned into a “no play zone”. Parents preferred letting their children play on their mobile phones to playing on this patch.
The housing quarters accounts for eight streets and around 1,500 families, and this incident had clearly shaken all of them.
A group of residents had a discussion about what could be done to create a safe play area for the children in the neighbourhood.
There were two options before them: Conversion of the existing Open Space Reservation (OSR) land at housing quarters into a play area for children or cleaning the open tract of land along the Cooum river. Residents went in for the second option.
“Many residents decided that the accident that happened to my daughter should be the last such incident in the neighbourhood. They volunteered in whatever way they could to develop the open space along the river,” says 40-year-old Rajesh, who works in a furniture mart in the neighbourhood.
Located along the Cooum river, the decades-old housing quarters is separated from the waterbody by main road and this patch of open space. Residents cannot peep into the river as it is fenced to a height of seven feet on a three feet brick compound wall. Each block in the housing quarter is connected via a street to the main road within the premises. The open tract of land along the river covers at least six streets in the housing quarters that has a total of eight streets. Over the years, the open tract of land has been plagued by dumping of garbage and even anti-social activities. For much of it, this land would be covered in bushes.
The patch of land along the Cooum river in Mogappair West is being developed by residents. Photos: Special Arrangement
With the residents deciding a few months ago to clean up the open space and also make it safe for their children, a WhatsApp group was created by Rajesh to mobilise support for the initiative and also to update residents that are part of the initiative and the developments relating to it.
As per government norms, the river area comes under the maintenance of the Public Works Department (PWD); and the open space along the river is under the control of Greater Chennai Corporation. So, the residents sought local civic GCC officials’ permission to convert the open space into a play area with adequate safety measures.
The officials readily agreed.
“We supported the residents in creating the play area for children in the open space. The only condition we laid before them was that it should be a collective initiative, and not that of an individual,” says Muthukumaraswamy, Assistant Engineer (A.E), Ward 91 (Mogappair West), Greater Chennai Corporation.
Two months ago, forming small groups, residents cleared bushes along the open land to a distance of around 500 metres and they are said to have taken all the safety measures including face masks and hand gloves. Earth movers were pressed into service and the uneven portion was levelled. Residents sought help from their known circles to source saplings to be planted in the cleared area of the open land.
Neem, Indian Tulip, Peepal and Indian Gooseberry are among the tree species that are being planted on this patch for the past few weeks as part of efforts to develop the open space into a children’s play area.
“By the time the saplings have grown, we will have mobilised the resources to buy play equipment to be installed in the cleared open area,” says Rajesh.