Santhom residents pine for roof over their heads

Long wait: The housing project for residents of Santhom colony at Mundamveli, launched in 2014, has not yet materialised.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

Housing projects, even those that were inaugurated, have yet to come to the rescue of residents living in ramshackle houses at Santhom Colony, Mundamveli.

In February 2014, an inauguration was held to kick-start work on a housing project for 104 residents of the colony that lies along the filthy Rameswaram canal in West Kochi. The housing scheme was to be included in the Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) project, launched by then Union government and implemented in collaboration with the State government and the local body.

Left in the lurch

The project never materialised, leaving residents of the area to fend for themselves or continue to live in crumbling houses. V4 Kochi, in its campaign for the local body polls, had raised the issue at Mundamveli.

Having had enough of broken promises from the Kochi Corporation, residents like Preethy Vasudevan, a corporation sanitation worker, borrowed money to fund the construction of a more habitable house for themselves. “Other housing projects like the one for P&T Colony residents or another for those who were evicted from near the Perandoor canal, have all popped up as our neighbours at Mundamveli, while we had to sit by and watch,” Ms. Preethy says.

Beena Martin, a resident, was left in the lurch when her house collapsed in 2019 in rough weather. A private group has been chipping in with ₹2 lakh to rebuild some shacks in the colony. “But that amount is barely sufficient. We had to borrow a lot more to rebuild the house. Since this is a low-lying land next to the canal, a strong foundation is crucial to prevent the structures from collapsing,” she says.

Others like Sheeba Johnson say the structures they live in are weather-beaten and could collapse easily. Of the 104 beneficiaries of the project, around 96 remain, and others have moved out, she says. Only a section of the pathway leading to the houses has been laid out with concrete. The rest is a narrow dirt track overgrown with weeds. “We have given up on the housing project. All we want now is title deeds,” says Mary Santhosh, who works as a domestic help. Parts of her house have been destroyed and rebuilt twice, once after a fire in 2005 that charred 27 houses in the colony. While a few residents have now been included in the LIFE Mission housing scheme, Ms. Mary said her name did not figure in it.

Title deeds

K.P. Santhosh, Ms. Mary’s husband, was the convenor of a protest group that demanded better housing facilities in 2017. “We were not able to sustain the protest when most of us got caught up with our daily lives,” says Mr. Santhosh, who does tiling work. Their house doubles up as a shop selling groceries. They will resume their campaign again, he says, but this time for title deeds to the land they have been living on for years.

The BSUP project never took off since then State government never sanctioned the use of gypsum boards for construction, says K.J. Prakasan, who represented Mundamveli in the previous council.

Gypsum was meant to be a light-weight and low-cost alternative to conventional construction material. Since the land was low-lying and marshy in some places, gypsum would have made construction easier, avoiding deep piling work, Mr. Prakasan says.

The stand-off over the use of gypsum meant that the period for implementation of the project and the funds that could have been allotted under it lapsed.

Attempts were made to purchase land from the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) in the area and launch another housing project with either CSR funds or funds under the slum eradication programme of Cochin Smart Mission Limited (CSML), says former Mayor Soumini Jain. But these also never materialised. While some residents live on puramboke land, a survey of the land would be necessary to determine ownership in other cases and provide title deeds, she adds.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 7:21:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/santhom-residents-pine-for-roof-over-their-heads/article33604047.ece

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