A story untold: the people of ‘Oriya Basti’ near the Ennore Thermal Power Plant

By Theja Ram

Chennai, Oct 30: A small distance away from the Ennore Thermal Power Plant is a community of immigrants from Odisha who have been living there for more than 5 years now. The area, now unofficially known as the ‘Oriya Basti’ hosts unemployed and forsaken laborers who came from parts of Rourkela in hopes finding work at the power plant.

Ennore thermal Power Plant

Ennore thermal Power Plant

During the construction of the plant, the laborers were living in temporary houses built outside the premisis of the plant and continue to live there even today. “We were put up here when we worked as construction laborers for the plant. After we were let go, we continued to stay here and the plant officials too didn’t have a problem with it. We have had no electricity since almost five years now and we fish in the nearby pond for our meals,” said Madhumati Ponda’s husband, who is unemployed but occaisionally works as a construction laborer. 

A woman who lives in the settlement

A woman who lives in the settlement

The pond, inconveniently has deposits of fly ash, a by product of the waste dumped by the plant, which contains huge amounts of toxic arsenic and cadmium. These are extremely harmful when consumed. The people in the community face a constant risk of their lives due to the illegal dumping of waste. “My son has fallen sick and he has lost a lot of weight. He no longer eats well and I think it has to do with the fish we consume,” said Lalitha, who also lives in the settlement.

Fly ash deposits in the pond water

Fly ash deposits in the pond water

The immigrants came to Chennai when the construction of the plant began in 2006 and were promised jobs in the labor force of the plant once the construction was complete. They, however, were let go once the construction was completed.

“We were guaranteed jobs as manual laborers in the plant once we finished the construction work. Since the completion, we have had to fend for ourselves,” said Madhumati Ponda, an immigrant who lives in the basti.

Besides fishing, a few men work as temporary construction laborers with recommendation from a few residents of Attipattu village. The community was initially helped by the Attipattu village head who is now dead. A few of the villagers still continue to contribute towards food supply and oil lanterns for these immigrants.

“They were promised jobs and were let go suddenly when the construction was completed. They can find no work. Our village head used to help them and now that he is dead, we feel the need to continue doing so,” said Kottapan, a resident of Attipattu who has been helping the community for three years now.


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