The Arunthathiar Dalit residents of Melaponnagaram Second Street of Gomespalayam on Saturday alleged that there is an effort to displace them from the vicinity of urban pockets to rural or suburb areas.

According to the residents, close to 220 families were residing at Gomespalayam. Almost half of them belongs to conservancy workers of the Madurai Corporation. Earlier, the Slum Clearance Board authorities cleared all the slums and replaced them with small concrete houses and in 2010 during the previous DMK government regime the workers were promised of houses with more space and were asked to vacate.

The Madurai Corporation told the workers that the housing project (cluster houses) under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) scheme will be undertaken with 75 per cent of funds as bank loan and 25 per cent as subsidy by the Corporation. However, the project, which was under way, was stopped due to funds crunch, which residents alleged was “artificially created” due to the change in the government.

“It has been more than three years, we are facing a crisis as we have no place to settle down and are living within Dalit neighbourhoods in makeshift spaces and other arrangements. None of the people outside the neighbourhood will rent houses, once they know we are conservancy workers and we are facing a tough situation,” said M. Muthukumar, president of the Conservancy Workers Resident Association, Gomespalayam.

On Thursday, the residents met the Collector and submitted a petition for which the Collector had promised immediate action.

Tamil Puligal founder-president, Nagai Thiruvalluvan, told The Hindu that this approach by the administration is indeed one form of discrimination against the Dalits. “The authorities are now asking us to consider shifting to Rajakkoor, which is on the outskirts, this is nothing but an effort to “cleanse” the city and pauperise these poor workers. It is a question of denial of basic citizenship.”

There are actually two issues here, first is the issue of pattas which have not been delivered to the residents who are residing there for more than 50 years. Issuance of pattas could at least help them get loans and they can rebuild their own houses with subsidy. Second is that life of poor people cannot be put at stake owing to political reasons, said Mr. Thiruvalluvan.

A Corporation Official said that the plan to build them new spacious houses was part of the JNNURM scheme. However, the required funds to build houses were not available under the scheme. Loan was stopped as the residents do not possess loan eligibility.

When contacted, Mayor V.V. Rajan Chellappa said that they are taking concerted efforts to restart the project and complete it. Since recovery is an issue, banks are not coming forward to provide loans and we are working out a strategy if there is a possibility to get some special funds from the government to complete the project.

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