The city of Chennai has the broad geographical division into North, South and Central Chennai. The Lok Sabha constituencies in Chennai also represent the broad geographical divide.
Tiruvottriyur is a place of antiquity. This place has been praised in songs by all the Tevaram trios (Appar, Gnanasambandar and Sundarar). This religious centre had drawn may saints and scholars. One of the famous poet-ascetic, Pattinathu Pillai, known by the locals as Pattinathar, lived and died in Tiruvotriyur. As a Saivite centre, it played a significant role in the ancient history of Tamil Nadu. The North Chennai population largely belongs to the working class.
The governments formed since 1937 under the Government of India Act of 1935 provided autonomy to the provinces and allowed them to form governments. First Congress government in Madras Presidency was formed from July 1937-39 and VV Giri, who became later the President of India, was the Labour Minister. R Venkataraman was Minister of Industries between 1957-62 and in 1967, he was nominated as a Union Planning Commission member, looking after subjects such as industry, labour, power, transport, communications and railways. Industries developed during this period in North Chennai. Some of the well-known industries in North Madras are the Ashok Leyland, Foundries, Parry company, Kothari, ITC (printing and packaging division), Royal Enfield, WIMCO, Metal Box, KPC, Eveready, Carborundum Universal, Ennore Thermal Power Station, TVS Lucas, North Madras Power Station, Oil Refinery, fertilizers in Manali, et al. Moreover, innumerable small and medium scale industries were started as auxiliary units to supply spare parts to these companies in North Chennai.
Workers came from different parts of Tamil Nadu and even from other states. Many of them were semi-skilled or unskilled and a large part of North Madras population was working in factories and living in the same place of work or nearby. Some of the companies and government departments like TNEB, EID Parry, KCP and Port Trust provided residential quarters to the workers, whereas, many didn’t. These companies had their management and administrative staff coming from South and Central Chennai and provided transportation to their management and administrative staff.
It was the working class who resided in Ennore, Tiruvottiyur, Tolgate, Ernavur, Basin Bridge, Vyasarpadi, Madhavaram, Perambur, Ambattur, Padi, Avadi and in the newly developed suburbs. North Madras also contributed to the growth and development of trade union movement. Some of the well-known trade union leaders such as SCC Antony Pillai, Kuselar and PV Chinthan headed these unions. Another set of people who settled in North Madras, in places like Vyasarpadi and Annai Sivgami Nagar in Ennore, are the repatriates from Burma.
They started their life from scratch in the 1960’s when they were repatriated to India; many of them joined the labour force in the industries of North Madras. Another set of people who live in the North Madras are the traditional fisher folk along the coast from Royapuram to Ennore. The fishing harbour in Kasimode is the only place which supplies fish to the entire city and its surroundings (Fish comes to the Chindadiripet market from Andhra). The composition of people of North Madras is largely from working class and the fisher folk who depended on their traditional occupation of fishing. Natural calamities that affected Chennai hit the North Chennai badly, be it the 2004 tsunami or the 2015 floods. In short, North Chennai represents the working class such as the unskilled and semi-skilled workers, semi-literate, and the oppressed castes living in slums and coastal hamlets.
The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Report in 2014 declared an increase of 51.85 per cent slums in the city between 2001 and 2014. It found that North Chennai had the maximum slums, 470 out of 1,131, in places like Tiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram, Tondiarpet and Royapuram. Tiruvotriyur was placed high with 142 slums (Central Chennai had 389 and South Chennai had 272). North Chennai drew workers from all over and with the casual labour force in large number, housing was a major problem, which resulted in the proliferation of slums. Neither were they given shelter nor were they rehabilitated in the 1970s by the government.
The depiction of North Chennai as a place for gang wars, drug menace and unclean surroundings is wrong and in a way it is also an attack on the working class, their families, way of life, youth and children. Systematically, North Chennai has been kept as an underdeveloped part of the city. ‘One size fits all’ is a wrong method of planning of the Corporation. North Chennai requires a special housing plan, roads, transportation, schools and higher educational institutions (barring few higher educational institutions, a vast majority is located in the South and Central Chennai). Progress and development is integral and not lop-sided. The city has to grow uniformly and not create a few islands of prosperity. Well known cities in the world have a Citizens Charter and if Chennai has one, North Chennai is excluded from it.