M. Uma, a class 10 student, was evicted from her house in Kakkan Nagar in September 2019, and relocated to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board’s resettlement colony in Perumbakkam. Months after the relocation, she still cherishes memories of the house she lived in and the lanes in which she played with her friends
Her family is one of the 2,585 families that were evicted from slums along the Cooum in 2019. While 804 families were evicted from Navalar Nedunchezhiyan Nagar this year, a total of 250 families were resettled from Kakkan Nagar. The number was 1,018 in Pallavan Nagar, 260 in Amma Nagar and a total of 209 families in Sathya Sai Nagar.
According to Greater Chennai Corporation officials, between 2016 to 2019, a total of 10,000 families living along the Cooum were evicted and by the end of 2020 the remaining over 4,000 families will also be removed. To date, most of the families have been relocated to Gudapakkam, Navalur, AIR Land and Perumbakkam. The 4,134 families living along the Adyar river, who were evicted in 2015, were relocated to Kannagi Nagar and Semmenchery.
According to the 2019–2020 State budget speech delivered by O. Paneerselvam, the Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, a total of 38,000 families living along water bodies will be evicted and this is touted as the largest eviction and relocation in the State as well as in the country in recent times.
Residents however, are unhappy with the houses they have been provided. The TNSCB has been criticised time and again by activists for the poor quality of construction in these resettlement colonies.
“The ceiling leaks, there are cracks in the buildings, the elevators don’t work, the corridors are not illuminated and the list goes on”, says Uma, now a resident of Perumbakkam, who resides in a 300 sq.ft. house. She said that she has to travel more than 25 km to her school in Aminjikarai. “Though there are chartered trips, the tiredness takes a toll on us,” she added.
Residents of Athipattu, another TNSCB resettlement colony, also have similar complaints. Thenmalai, a resident, demonstrates an excess of cement falling as she drives a nail into the wall.
Gunasekaran, a resident of Gudapakkam, says that the TNSCB should try different construction designs instead of the classic ghetto model.
Residents also want a separate space for a kitchen with water facility. “As of now, we have to collect water from the bathroom,” said a resident. As the number of evictions has increased, the number of floors has also increased and now TNSCB is constructing eight-storied buildings – which activists and residents claim is a‘flawed’ model.
Vanessa Peter, policy researcher, Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities, said that the basic reason for most of the problems is the lack of housing policy guidelines or standards, and evaluation reports to understand the success of earlier housing projects.
She said that evicting families to relocation sites in isolated and interior locations is a violation of the right to life and livelihood of deprived urban communities. “The State should prioritise in-situ housing and proximate resettlement (within 5 kilometres) should be explored only as last resort. Housing for the marginalised has to be beyond proving four walls and a roof -- there is a need for providing civic and social amenities, access to schemes and services and specific interventions to reduce vulnerabilities of the families,” she said.
She wanted the State to draft a comprehensive housing policy by adopting a participatory policy making process. “There should be a technical audit of all resettlement sites,” she added..
Meanwhile, TNSCB officials said that all these years they had adopted conventional construction methods. “Now we are trying out pre-fabricated and monolithic concrete technology to build these houses. This will make them sturdier,” said a senior TNSCB official.
Besides, from now on the TNSCB is looking at spaces within the city to accommodate those who are evicted so that their livelihood is not affected. Some of the places are Manali, Ennore, Moolakuthalam, K. P. Park and T.P Chatiram. “While reconstructing the existing houses, we will increase the number of floors to accommodate people,” said an official.