Published: 28th May 2021
With limited mobile and internet connectivity, students in Tiruvallur struggle to take online exams
Poor mobile network in four villages threatens future of students, youth, and even lives
21-year-old G Vamsi, a final year civil-engineering student, is worried about his upcoming semester examination in July. While his friends in city will be attempting the examination in the comfort of their homes, Vamsi will be doing it from a ‘bus stop.’ He is worried he would be accused of malpractice and reprimanded.
The reason for his worry is something so common we take it for granted: Mobile network coverage. Placepalayam in Tiruvallur, his native village, is just one-hour drive away from Chennai but has no mobile or internet connectivity. Vamsi has to travel 6-8 km to a bus stop in Pudukandigai, the nearest point with 4G coverage.
‘School’ bus stop
“Our institute, St Joseph’s College of Engineering, is affiliated to Anna University. According to guidelines, students should attend examinations in a closed room with no background noise. In our case, however, when a lorry or a bus honks while passing by, the examination software will pick it up as background noise and red list us for alleged malpractice. I had to reattempt two papers last semester due to similar reasons,” Vamsi said.
A ground assessment done by Express reveals that Placepalayam is not alone. Three more big villages–Hudsonpuram, Nariankonai, and Gengulukandigai (all falling within Tiruvallur Assembly segment with a combined population of over 10,000 people)–are cut-off from mobile network. Like Vamsi, many students from these four villages use the bus stop in Pudukandigai for writing their examinations and to attend online classes.
‘Office’ bus stop
The bus stop also serves as a makeshift office for a few. Thirty-two-year-old Krishna Prasad, a Chennai techie who returned to his native village Placepalayam because of the lockdown is working for over 12 hours a day from the bus stop. Employee of a reputable NEET-coaching institute in Sholinganallur, Prasad reaches the bus stop with his laptop at 9 am and works till 11 pm, taking breaks only to have lunch and dinner.
Express caught-up with Prasad while he was attending a zoom meeting. “There is only one Vodafone tower in the area, the signal of which does not cover all the villages. If there is a power cut, which is commonplace in villages, that tower will also not work. During such events, we will have to travel another ten km to Uthukottai.
We had written to Tiruvallur collector, local MLA, and MP several times, but none heeded to our requests. For taking a printout for a project work, we have to travel to Tiruvallur, which is 32 km away. Digital India is a myth,” Prasad said.
When contacted, Tiruvallur MLA VG Rajendran assured that the problem would be addressed shortly. “A Reliance Jio tower has been approved, but its installation was delayed due to Covid-19 related restrictions. I will follow the case up and ensure that the tower is installed at the earliest,” he said.
But, every day in delay poses a tightrope walk for the villagers because this lack of connectivity threatens peoples’ lives as well. Six months ago, 32-year-old Mallika from Nariankonai village was bitten by a cobra on her paddy field. Her family was not able to arrange for medical assistance in time, which resulted in her suffering permanent nerve damage. Today, Mallika is physically challenged, with her right leg being partially dysfunctional.
Showing her disfigured leg, Mallika told Express, “We could not call for an ambulance. By the time we reached Tiruvallur hospital, the venom had started affecting organs, and I was referred to a Chennai GH. By that time, I had slipped into a coma. It is miracle that I survived. I was unconscious for 45 days.”
Since the villagers are surrounded by farmlands and reserve forest, incidents of snakebite are common. And, getting anti-venom shots in time can be the difference between life and death, not only for people, but for livestock also. An example is the death of a pregnant cow in Nariankonai village last month. It succumbed to snakebite because its owners could not call for veterinary help.
These beg the question: Do these villagers deserve this?