Water shortage, sewage stagnation, mosquito menace haunt residents of tsunami rehabilitation tenements

Lorries line up the dusty road leading to Ennore, drivers sit idle waiting for their turn to drive ahead. On the other side, the landscape varies from small fishing hamlets to large stretches of vacant land and imposing facades of industrial units. Some paces away past the milestone which says Ennore is five km away, a narrow road to the left leads up to a compound wall of the Tsunami Quarters that is lined up with uncleared garbage.

“We should have died in the waves instead of coming here,” says V. Vinayakam. Seated behind his flower stall, the former resident of Tondiarpet shares his experience of living in the locality near Eranavur for the past two years. “At least in my previous place of work which was on a main road, I found more customers for my goods,” he adds. The general consensus among residents surrounding him is that life was better off in the slums they used to live when tsunami struck in 2004.

“Here, water shortage is acute, sewage stagnates, we hardly sleep due to the mosquito menace, and repeated complaints to officials about poor infrastructure have been of little use,” says V.Gomathy, who is yet to shift her children to schools near the tenements. Instead, the children travel long distances to their schools.

Opposite the worn-out Tsunami Quarters that have an uncanny resemblance to similar tenements in Kannagi Nagar and Semmancherry, stand the newly constructed tenements that house people displaced due to the city's thirst for expansion and better transport facilities. For 35-year-old M.Viswanathan, who was a casual labourer in Parry's Corner, the sudden displacement from a familiar territory feels like a forced exile. “For generations, my family has been living in Parry's Corner where I used to work. Now, there are many days when I don't make a living and I have quite a substantial debt to repay,” he says.

“Fisherfolk at the Tsunami Quarters near Ennore are facing problems from local fishermen who are territorial about the waters,” says N.Paul Sunder Singh, director, Karunalaya, an NGO which has worked with the affected families of the Tsunami.

In north Chennai, 2,508 beneficiaries were enlisted by the government for allotment of permanent houses of which 1,392 permanent houses were constructed by Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board in Tondiarpet, he says. “But residents were not aware of such a list and found that many were left out of the enumeration process. Houses were allotted based on draw of lots,” he adds.

A case in point is that of M.Gnansoundari, a resident of the Tsunami Quarters in Thilagar Nagar, Tondiarpet. Having missed out on the enumeration exercise, she now lives with her son and has filed an RTI query to find her eligibility status. According to sources at TNSCB, enumerators revisit houses in case the residents are not available for identification. “The enumerators will come back and collect the details,” he says. Residents, however, contradict this. The enumeration exercise took place seven years ago and none has been conducted since, they complain.

While residents of Thilagar Nagar say life has improved when compared to their previous temporary shelters at Kargil Nagar a lot more needs to be done by way of cleaning and maintaining the premises, putting in place a proper water connection and cleaning the garbage of streets.

Autorickshaw driver K.Venkatesan, a resident of nearby Hindustan Unilever (HUL) Nagar, has wiped out the memory of life in the temporary shelters of Kargil Nagar. “Living here is good but many things need fixing. Corporation officials came about three months ago and took away all water tanks. Now we don't have a regular water supply,” he says, while standing next to an empty community hall.

“The hall which they claim was built for the use of community members remains locked. We approached the officials to ask if we can conduct extra tuitions for the children in the area but we have not received any responses,” says A.Parvathy, a tuition teacher.

The government has formed a high-level committee to look into infrastructure and other facilities for post re-settlement schemes. “Each department will survey problems in their particular field in the following months,” says a TNSCB official.

“We have submitted so many petitions and complaints, I wonder if there is much point anymore” asks V. Sujatha, a resident of Thillagar Nagar.