Posts Tagged ‘okkium’

Chennai to be slum free?

December 16, 2010 4 comments
Chennai slum free
With the State working towards making the city slum-free by 2013, KENNY ROGER MOISE and SHIVANI BAIL try and understand how this development is impacting the city and its inhabitants…
  Slum-dwellers live a hard life. Most often their problems pass under the radar of the authorities. No one repairs their (slum-dwellers) broken sewage lines, collects their garbage, sprays their locality with mosquito repellant, repairs their damaged transformers or files their First Information Reports (FIRs). It is no wonder then that their tenements are not pleasing to the eye. Now, with government officials aspiring to make Chennai a city on par with Singapore, these slums seem to have become dispensable. But aren’t they citizens of this city too?
   At present the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), which carries out projects to improve the living conditions of the urban poor, is working on three projects – housing for the tsunami-affected and vulnerable families, housing under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and repair and renewal works on existing settlements. A Ramalingam, Managing Director, TNSCB, says, “We have completed 8,314 tenements out of our requirement of 13,891 tenements for families affected by the Tsunami disaster at an estimated cost of 568 crore. Under the JNNURM scheme, we have undertaken the construction of 35,270 tenements at an estimated cost of 1,504 crore. We have already completed the construction of 17,376 houses. This is part of our initiative to make Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore, slum-free.”
   Most of these housing projects seem to have been developed to house the people displaced as a result of the government’s aggressive development stance. The Cooum Beautification Project which was announced in December 2009 and the Elevated Expressway project announced in March 2008 are two such projects. While the beautification project seeks to clean the 72 kilometre-long Cooum River, the Elevated Expressway Project, which is already underway, is a 19 kilometre long corridor that will connect the Chennai Port to Maduravoyal; large parts of this project pass through slum settlements along the Cooum. “The initial proposal for a freight corridor from the Port to the National Highway was made by the engineering consultancy firm, L&T Ramboll for a stretch of 8.5km,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, a city-based environmental activist. “This proposal was less expensive and did not affect any slum settlements. However, this was disposed and a new proposal was made for a 19km corridor from the Port to Maduravoyal based on a feasibility report by an international transportation and infrastructure consulting firm, Wilbur Smith Associates. This road curves along the Cooum River and is expected to displace nearly 18,000 families when it gets completed.”
   Work on both projects has already begun. “The Pudupet slum (next to Chintadripet), Jyotima Nagar slum and the M K Stalin Nagar slum (on either side of the Choolaimedu bridge) have already been evicted as a result of these two projects,” says R Geetha, National Additional Secretary of the Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangham and Advisor, Unorganised Workers Federation. “People from these slums have been sent to the Okkium Thoraipakkam settlement on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR). They have lost their livelihoods in the process.” Houses constructed as part of the Emergency Tsunami Reconstruction Project (ETRP) in Thoraipakkam now house slum-dwellers from across the city; even from as far as Ayanavaram, Kilpauk and Parrys. “Most of these people travel back into the city to work and end up sleeping on the pavements instead of travelling all the way back home,” says V Manimekalai, a volunteer with the Unorganised Workers Federation and a resident of the Thoraipakkam settlement. “They sometimes don’t return home for a month at a stretch.” How many such people are being evicted? “As per a study published in the Economic and Political Weekly, around 18,000 families will be evicted along the Cooum River for both the Cooum Beautification Project and the Elevated Expressway Project,” says Nityanand.
   The government, on the other hand, believes that the evacuation of these slums is important, as the people living there are vulnerable to fire accidents and floods.
   “Several settlements along water ways and road ways in the city are densely populated, yet the people in these settlements survive with hardly any amenities,” says Ramalingam. “Just because they have adjusted to these conditions does not mean they should be left to live like this. Apart from considering their well-being, it is also important to consider the environmental impact of their settlements on the river banks.”
The conditions in which evicted slum-dwellers live in are hard to imagine. Consider the Thoraipakkam slum. Constructed by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) in 2009, this settlement has now become famous for all the wrong reasons. “Despite housing around 15,000 families (around 65,000 people) the Kannagi Nagar slum in Thoraipakkam does not have even one Primary Healthcare Centre,” says Geetha. “Women have delivered their children in autos and buses on their way to the city on several occasions,” says Manimekalai. Apart from this, the lack of employment in the slum forces young men to adopt a life of crime. “In some parts of Thoraipakkam, residents have to pay local goondas for electricity, water and rent,” says Manimekalai, “Several deaths have taken place here as a result of people refusing to pay them. The police don’t help us; they file FIRs only after someone gets murdered.” Water is also a big problem in these slums. “A month ago, we used to get water only once a month. Now the situation has improved and we receive water twice a week. However, the tank from where we get our water is very dirty. It is uncovered and often contains slippers, plastic bags and mosquito larvae,” says Manimekalai.
   The government, on its part, has made some effort to resolve these multifarious problems. “Tenements in Okkium Thoraipakkam and Semmencheri have been developed as integrated townships in coordination with the concerned agencies. TNSCB has co-ordinated with the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) to ensure that the frequency of buses that go via Thoraipakkam to important destinations of work in Broadway, Egmore, Adyar, Saidapet, Tambaram, Velachery, among other places, is sufficient for the large number of people who live there,” says Ramalingam. “To ensure the livelihood of the new settlers, a package of services for economic development is being provided; this includes valueadded training programmes, referral services and job fairs in coordination with IT companies and other private sector companies. So far livelihood projects including skill training, formation of self help groups (SHGs) and other activities have been carried out to benefit 22,521 people at a cost of 488 lakh.”
   Are these efforts enough of a substitution for the big change that the government is forcing the poor to make? At the end of the day, their development needs must be considered too. After all, without them our houses wouldn’t get built, our homes wouldn’t get cleaned; in short, without them our development would not be possible.
Times of India, Epaper, Property Times – 11 December 2010