TNSCB proposes new tenements, but problems in finding alternative accommodation before July 30 galore

Nearly 300 families living at Jailpettai, a slum in Palakarai, face a July 30 deadline to vacate: Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) will soon begin constructing tenements under a housing project that hoped to provide urban slum dwellers with basic amenities.

The basic research work for the project that includes soil testing and surveys by private institutions (regarding basic amenities) began about one and a half years ago. Though the residents were initially promised alternative accommodation, they came to know through an RTI application (dated 08.03.2012) that they have to make their own arrangements.

Caste discrimination

“Though there are a few who have managed to find rented houses elsewhere, most of us have not been able to do so,” says S. Francis, a resident of the slum.

While a majority of people in Jailpettai, who work as daily wage labourers, cannot afford rented houses in the city, Francis says there is a cluster of other discriminating factors at play.

“House owners refuse to give us houses on rent either because of our caste or the fact that we are from a slum,” he alleges, adding that a majority of them belonged to scheduled caste.

“Some managed to get houses on rent by lying about their caste, but they have always been exposed,” says M.Senthil, another resident. According to him, people who left the slum to move into a rented house have often returned because the house owners found out they lied and even gave back the advance paid.

Multi-layered issue

“Almost all of us work around Gandhi market and Marakadai area, and earn between Rs.150 and 200 a day,” says A. Ponnusamy, who thinks it is impossible for many to shell out Rs.30,000 as advance and between Rs.2,000 and Rs.4,000 as monthly rent.

“Though we do find houses for rent in suburbs like Kattur, Thuvakudi and Tiruverumbur, the cost of travelling to the city would put a huge stress on our finances.”

Adding to their owes, the ongoing Tamil month of Aadi seemed to prevent Hindu house owners from renting out, while the Muslim house owners refused because of the month of Ramazhan.

The old, widowed and the handicapped people at Jailpettai seem the most helpless: “All these years I earned my living with the idly shop I run outside my hut,” says A.Kumar, a handicapped person, whose need for a ground floor accommodation has further narrowed his chances of finding a house. Thus Jailpettai, which has been in existence for nearly 80 years, continues to bustle with activity, while tensions run high amidst its residents.

Jailpettai seems divided regarding its support for the TNSCB project: While most of the people agree that they would like to live in tenements that promise to bring along basic amenities that the slum lacks, there are others like Britto Mary who are willing to vacate only if alternative accommodation is arranged.

“That was the single condition upon which we agreed to this project,” says Britto Mary. Claiming that the days she and her husband spent searching for houses, instead of working, has already hit her family’s income, she says they will not move out unless the TNSCB found them a place to build their hut.

Hopeful suggestions

To strike a middle path, the residents have made a few suggestions to the board: “While the slum is around five acres in area, the proposed tenements will be built over only two acres,” says M.J.Charles, who felt the residents could be allowed to put up temporary shelters in the remaining area.