A few hundred families living along the Buckingham Canal in Raja Annamalai Puram are hoping that the State government will intervene and help them keep their homes of over 50 years.
The Water Resources Department has started demolishing homes on Ilangovan Street in Govindasamy Nagar following an order from the Supreme Court, which recently upheld an earlier order from the Madras High Court.
The High Court was acting on a public interest litigation that sought a direction to the State government to remove encroachments that had shrunk a 40-foot-wide road.
As demolition work has begun on the stretch, residents who have been living here since 1961 were furious. “It was then only an ‘ othai adi paathai ’ (a foot-wide road). The State government passed an order in 1971 and even issued identity cards to 110 families, allotting 436 square feet of land to each of them to build houses,” said R. Navaneetham, a resident.
K. Natarajan, who was six years old, when he moved into the locality with his father, alleged they have been pushed into a corner by vested interests with none to help them now. “We have spent close to Rs. 40 lakh fighting the cases, but we do not have any more money,” he said. “All of us are daily wage earners and there was nothing but bushes when we started setting up our homes. The government provided all amenities and wants to raze it down overnight suddenly after so many years,” said Ganesh Kumar.
WRD officials said though it is a slum notified by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, the latter had not improved it. The lands along the Central Buckingham canal still remain with the WRD as per revenue records. The evicted residents have been given alternative homes in Ezhil Nagar in Okkiyam Thoraipakkam. “We were asked to clear the remaining 300 structures on the Ilangovan Nagar in two months as part of a project to improve Central Buckingham canal,” the official added.
Priti Narayan, an independent researcher on the issue of relocation, said residents were not given prior notices and hence, due process was not followed as per norms laid down in Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act, 1971. Many families have moved to tenements in Ezhil Nagar and travelling all the way to schools and work every day is becoming a strain for children and their parents. Families living there have the “legitimacy to live there as the site is a ‘declared slum’ as announced by the State government,” she added.
Many of the residents who are being forced to move have been living along the Buckingham Canal for over 50 years