Farmers, food, the next generation and their futures

One of the areas that exemplify this phenomenon is Siruseri ( Chengalpet Taluk, Kanchipuram District), a village located southwest of Chennai. Its population is around 1346 (Census 2011), with a sex ratio of 1012 (Tamil Nadu's is 992) and working populace of 535. These rapid changes can be attributed to the presence of the 1000 acre government-supported & owned economical IT-park called "SIPCOT" (State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamilnadu Ltd) established in the early 2000s. We aim to discover and examine the landscape changes in this highly developed area located along today's IT corridor- Old Mahabalipuram Road.

Landscape changes are a common phenomenon in the Peri-urban regions, the most prominent being agricultural land conversion into a real-estate property by construction companies owing to its sky-rocketing prices due to economic investments.

The Siruseri village has a higher literacy rate compared to Tamil Nadu. (In 2011, the literacy rate of Siruseri village was 80.63 % compared to 80.09 % of Tamil Nadu.) Male literacy stands at 83.79 %, while the female literacy rate is 77.57 %.

69.91 % of workers describe their work as Main Work (Employment or Earning more than 6 Months). In comparison, 30.09 % were involved in Marginal activity, providing a livelihood for less than six months. Of 535 workers engaged in Main Work, 19 were cultivators (owner or co-owner), while 63 were Agricultural laborers.

We aimed to find out how the people living around the SIPCOT find the experience of such rapid landscape change through a questionnaire. Furthermore, we were curious to understand what the local inhabitants saw as indicators for this change and if they derive any benefit from it or were at a loss? We enquired if they were originally from here or not? If they weren’t we probed about the push and pull factors for moving in here? We asked about their land ownership status and also queried about what the local peoples' primary and secondary water resources are?

77% of the households segregate their waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable before disposal. The 23% who do not segregate listed their reasons as lack of time, lack of awareness and lack of incentive. 83% of residents lack disposal options for segregated waste. Most waste collection mechanisms did not require or encourage segregation. Some households see segregation as the responsibility of the waste service. Households in Thandalam, Paraniputhur, Mangadu remarked that the waste was being segregated by the panchayat waste services after door to door collection or dumping in a common bin. Other households were unsure of what actually happened after collection of segregated waste. An apartment complex in a gated community in Kiloy had separate bins for organic and inorganic waste, encouraging segregation, as shown in figures in 1 and 2.

For visualizing the landscape changes in this area, we compared Google Earth images between 2004 and 2018 with each other to mark the apparent differences in the infrastructure and to highlight changes. Furthermore, we used ArcGIS to quantify the area change of different land use, land cover types.

Land Use - land cover change between 2005 and 2019:

Land use and land cover change (LULCC) (also known as land change), is a general term for the human modification of Earth's terrestrial surface. By analyzing land use and land cover change using ArcGIS 10.3, we observed reduction in the size of water bodies. It denotes that there may be a change in rainfall patterns or extraction of groundwater near the surface bodies. Wide-spread groundwater extraction leaves little room for groundwater recharge; hence the water is not retained there. Another possibility is the encroachment of those surface water bodies. There is a reduction in Agriculture and Vegetation, which denotes that a lot of agricultural lands were converted into the Special Economic Zone, further accelerated by the construction of new apartments. Bare land has decreased, which shows that there may be an increase in settlements in these lands.

These changes encompass the most significant environmental concerns of human populations today, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution of water, soils, and air. Monitoring and mediating the negative consequences of LULCC while sustaining the production of essential resources has, therefore, become a priority of researchers and policymakers around the world.

Landuse change around the Sipcot, Siruseri - Settlement structure

The landscape west of the OMR is changing rapidly after the SIPCOT, Siruseri got established. It seems to us, the SIPCOT is acting like a growth magnet on its surroundings. The Google Earth imagery of the year 2004 mainly shows the three villages Natham, Siruseri, and another small village whose name we couldn't identify. One sees the water tanks located close to every village and agricultural land in a small structured pattern, as well as the natural drainage system being well demarcated, leading the water to the water bodies in the East.

The red line shows our field trip route to discover the area. Circa 2004, the beginning of construction work in the area of SIPCOT is seen, as they start to form an artificial drainage system to drain the agricultural land for construction. The Google Earth imagery of the year 2018 shows an entirely different landscape. The agricultural land has been converted into the commercial built-up area of the SIPCOT (purple area). At the same time, the landscape and the appearance of the villages changed a lot:

The green areas show the old villages with rural structure, but with a higher density of small-scale living buildings and less garden/forest areas. In the north of Siruseri, a completely new quarter has been created, which from the building structure fits well into the rural structure of the old village.

The green areas show the old villages with rural structure, but with a higher density of small-scale living buildings and less garden/forest areas. In the north of Siruseri, a completely new quarter has been created, which from the building structure fits well into the rural structure of the old village.

The yellow areas show new residential areas, which are built-up areas with high-class apartment towers with high density. It differs a lot from the appearance of the old villages. Also, there are even more sites which are under construction and will be residential area soon.

Interviews

1. Ramaswamy, Originally from Adyar, Chennai

Ramaswamy is now senile and struggles to sustain himself and his wife. However, this was not always the case. Before moving to Sirusery, Ramaswamy used to sell fruits in the buzzing streets of Adyar. He used to travel to Coimbatore to source fresh fruits. "Nevertheless, Chennai, the city he spent most of his life, has discarded him in his old age," Ramaswamy laments. Sirusery, a small village nestled in between the large concrete jungle of the Muthukadu SIPCOT area, has been a comforting refuge for Ramaswamy for the past five years. While he is unable to work, his wife has found a job as a domestic worker in one of the newly built apartments that mostly houses young IT professionals. Ramaswamy seemed detached from what's happening around him when asked about what he thinks of SIPCOT. However, he's grateful that he found a place to live in Sirusery in his old age, although increasing rent could pose a problem.

2. Asim and Salim; Young construction workers from Malda, West Bengal

Asim and Salim moved to Siruseri hardly a month back. In fact, when we met them, they were strolling around the area, exploring the village. Nonetheless, when asked about their plans in Sirusery, they were quite confident that they will be seen around this place for a while. With new buildings spurting up in Sirusery at every corner, Asim is confident that he will find work as most of the other young migrant workers from Northern India who do most of the construction work. In his apartment, he shares a room with nine others; these workers from all around North India live in congested rooms, sometimes forcing them to open defecate. Although their contractor has given them some money to construct four toilets, it is insufficient. When asked about SIPCOT and their life in Sirusery, the workers said they couldn't complain because they are earning three times more than what they used to earn back in their village.

56.2% of households were willing to segregate and 22.3% of households were neutral. 43.1% of households were willing to compost and 23.8% were neutral. 45.6% of households were willing to recycle, while 25.3% were neutral. Some households proved reluctant to recycling. A household in Kundrathur was against the use of recycled water. A household in Mangadu pointed out that local conditions were not suited for the same. However the sale of paper, plastic and e-waste by residents for recycling proved common. Some households take active efforts to reduce the plastic waste generated by curbing the use of polythene bags and plastic bags. One of the households used all the waste they generated as fuel for cooking.

3. Chandran: Shopkeeper from Kerala

Chandran is from Kerala. Like many Keralites, Chandran moved to Chennai, looking for a better livelihood 20 years back. Nevertheless, Chandran could not afford a shop in Chennai. So, he opened a small shop in Siruseri village. The rent was only 1000 per month at that time. After the introduction of SIPCOT, the rent has increased by six times. Even though he needs to pay more nowadays, the number of customers has also increased. Additionally, he mentioned that life become more comfortable because of the improved infrastructure (better roads, street lights, and stable water and electricity supply). .

4. Vinayak, a taxi driver from Chennai city core

Vinayak is a 61 years old, taxi driver who grew up in Chennai but decided to move to this village close to the SIPCOT area 30 years ago. Now there is no need to drive the taxi only in the city center; thanks to SIPCOT, there is enough work and customers in his vicinity. Him, being able to find work in his neighborhood has made life easier for the entire family.

5. Aarav, IT- specialist from Vellore

Aarav is an IT specialist from Vellore who moved to the SIPCOT area 6 months ago owing to his lucrative job as an IT- specialist in a company nearby. He felt that despite getting a good salary, the cost of living also is significantly higher. He felt that in a family, all the adults need to work to meet their essential expenses. However, he doesn't regret moving to closer to his workplace as the shorter travel times, according to him, is a boon. He is happy about the opportunities this area presents to lead an active life.

6. Vijayalakhshmi, Domestic worker

We met Vijayalakshmi, a domestic worker in Siruseri, and her story revealed how the Anthropogenic activity here, entirely altered her movement from the urban area to peri-urban for livelihood purposes. Eighteen years back, she moved from Bangalore to Chennai. Their entire family was involved in running a small canteen situated in the Sembarambakkam village, Poonamallee taluk, Thiruvallur district. She paid the rent for land whose owner was abroad and ran her shop for three years.

The 2015 floods caused by intensive rainfall and fuelled improper management of land altered their entire life. Now she has moved from Poonamallee to Siruseri owing to the help she received from her brother, who also lives in Siruseri. Most inhabitants of these huge apartment complexes work in IT Companies in the SIPCOT. Since both men and women work in a family, there is an imminent need for domestic workers here.

Her husband is a car driver, and her son is an Engineer. She lives in a rented house and paying around Rs. 5,500/month. She does not feel alienated from the local village as her voting rights under Siruseri panchayat. Their primary source for drinking water was drawn from the bore-well. Now since it is not functional due to deeper groundwater level and thereby poor water quality, it spoilt their RO filtration system. She has now shifted from using bore water to buying can water priced at Rs. 20/can. For domestic purposes like cleaning, washing she prefers using from the public water supply, which is of better quality than the bore-water.

Conclusion

There is a drastic change in social and economic structure because of the construction of SIPCOT. Most people we interviewed viewed the landscape change positively since they get better infrastructure (energy, streets, water supply, et.). Besides, the IT park has created more working opportunities and increased the customers for local shops and taxi drivers. The surrounding living areas are getting more convenient and comfortable to live, due to less noise, more green areas. Overall, they have positive future perspectives in this area.

Further Research Questions

Environmental

1. What is the role of local inhabitants in natural landscape protection in the area? (economy-ecology conflict) Does nature still hold value for inhabitants?

2. There is an environmental impact regulation, but this has been ignored. How to enforce the law and increase public supervision?

3. The groundwater table is declining, so people need to dig a deeper well. Alternatively, they need to buy the water can for drinking purposes. Access to water resources is also unclear. How to regulate groundwater in the future?

4. How to increase the transparency of resource information?

Social

1. How will the social structure of inhabitants change in the future? Where are those farmers working and living now, who sold their land?

2. In case the rent increases further in the area, will that be a disadvantage in the future for the weaker earning people living around the SIPCOT area, for example, vendors?

Sustainability

1. 1. The growth of the built-up area seems never ending. In this context, how can it be sustainable and inclusive? Can we ensure a balance between management of natural resources/ preserving local natural land/water scapes and developing tangible (Eg. public transportation, equitable water supply) and intangible infrastructure (Eg. ensuring platforms for social interactions between established inhabitants and new-comers.)

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