Councillors say the incident was waiting to happen since an error was made in the choice of land

What should have by now been happy news has turned out be quite unpleasant. The recent sinking of Block 4 of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) tenement in Ukkadam has drawn a big question mark over not only the safety of the 21 blocks under construction but also the project as a whole.

If the Block had not sunk, the TNSCB would have handed over the tenements to the Corporation, which would have let them for the occupation of the beneficiaries – the people living alongside water bodies, roads and on government lands.

The Corporation had in 2007-08 asked the TNSCB to construct the tenements to relocate people from 91 locations in the city as part of the Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme.

Ammankulam incident

The Ukkadam incident on September 2 comes a year after the sinking of two blocks in Ammankulam. Here too, the TNSCB constructed the flats for the Corporation to relocate the urban poor.

Following the Ammankulam incident, the TNSCB moved 672 flats to Ukkadam to take the total number of flats there from 2,232 to 2,904. In Ammankulam, the TNSCB is constructing 904 flats.

Sewage farm

Coimbatore Corporation Councillors say the incident was waiting to happen as the mistake was made at the first and very crucial step of selecting the land. “Despite protest from Opposition Councillors, the Corporation went ahead with selecting the land in Ukkadam, which has for long been a sewage farm,” says an elected representative.

“While granting approval for the use of the Ukkadam site, the Corporation cited the land as agricultural land to get the land classification changed. It hid the fact that the land was a sewage farm,” he accuses. It used the pretext that it cultivated grass for cattle for the classification conversion, charges K. Purushothaman, Ward 61 Councillor.

That is only a part of the story, though. The Corporation failed to get the mandatory Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board clearance prior to start of the project, he adds. “Only when the Madras High Court issued notice to the Corporation in the Nanjundapuram sewage treatment plant case, did it realise that it had to obtain the clearance for the Ukkadam project as it was within 500 metres of the Ukkadam sewage treatment plant,” points out Mr. Purushothaman.

The two are only pointers to the series of flaws that the Corporation committed

Members of the City Technical Advisory Committee say they did not get to participate in the Basic Services for Urban Poor project because by the time the Committee was formed they projects had already begun, says P. Arun Prasad, a member of the Committee.

As per the Government of India norms, the local body implementing JNNURM projects has to constitute such committees involving citizens.

Nobody got to review the projects, not even the Councillors, rues P. Rajkumar, Ward 71 Councillor. “The Opposition Councillors' demands for a white paper on the issue besides an exclusive Council session to discuss the JNNURM projects have gone in vain.”

Having suffered, the Councillors want the Corporation to revisit the proposal to handover construction of another 9,600 flats to the TNSCB at the very place in Ukkadam.

“Having burnt its fingers twice, the Corporation should identify a new location for housing the urban poor and the new location should not be a water body,” demands Mr. Purushothaman.

The Corporation should even consider acquiring land, suggests one of the Councillors.

“If the civic body can acquire land for sewage treatment plant by paying a hefty sum, it can very well spend money for housing the poor. After all, human life is precious than a sewage treatment plant.”

If the beneficiaries refuse to move over to the flats fearing safety, the very purpose of the housing scheme for the poor will stand defeated. The city, thereby, will not be free of slums.

The Councillors and target beneficiaries want the Corporation to have a relook at the project and take necessary remedial actions.

What they say

S. Baskar, IC Centre for Governance

The urban poor, the beneficiaries, will refuse to occupy the flats in Ammankulam and Ukkadam, however much one may convince them. They will continue to live alongside water bodies, roads and on government lands, which will hamper the efforts to rejuvenate the water bodies and take up road development works.

M.S. Velmurugan, Ward 57 Councillor

The cardinal sin was in choosing such a site for the construction of a dream project and then came the failure to adhere to procedures. This completely derailed the project shattering the hopes of a slum-free city and that of the poor beneficiaries, who will have to wait for a shelter. All this resulted in huge wastage of public money.

R. Raveendran, Honorary Secretary, RAAC

Had the Corporation consulted members of the City Technical Advisory Committee, which had engineers and architects among its members, the tenements in Ammankulam and Ukkadam would not have sunk. The Corporation should always take an independent opinion for such projects so that the public money is well spent.

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