U Mahalakshmi, whose hut in Thideer Nagar slum along the banks of the Adyar in Saidapet was washed away, said she wants a permanent shelter. “This is the third time authorities are asking us to move. We will have to move from the relief shelter but where will we go? We are scared to go back to the river bank,” she said.
Families who lived along the river bank in houses with asbestos-sheet roofs have returned but those who had huts remain in the camps as their homes were washed away.
“A total of 19 corporation schools, including in Saidapet, Nandanam, Vadapalani, Pulianthope, Ekkattuthangal, Adyar, Kotturpuram and Taramani, will remain closed as affected families are still there. We inspected schools across the city and found that three are not yet fit for classes,” said a corporation official.
After the swelling rivers breached their banks and swept away their belongings, slum dwellers are more than willing to move into tenements built for them by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. “I came back as the water has receded from my house but authorities are yet to restore electricity. If there is a safer place that we can live in, I would be happy to move,” said K Selvi, who lives on the Adyar river bank in Saidapet.
The slums that dotted the banks of Adyar and Cooum Rivers and Buckingham Canal were home to nearly 50,000 families. But, the government can accommodate only 11,000 families. Under a Rs 2,500-crore JNNURM scheme, Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board constructed 30,000 houses for slum dwellers. “We can shift 11,000 families covered under the biometric identification survey any time to tenements in Thoraipakkam (2,219), Perumbakkam (4,600), Navalur (2,000) and Tiruvottiyur (540), and 1,641 houses in other parts of the city,” said an official. It is the responsibility of both the city corporation and public works department to shift the families to their new homes, he said. Another 14,000 houses in Perumbakkam are nearing completion.Nearly 5,000 families live along drains such as Mambalam Canal and Captain Cotton Canal. Corporation officials said politicians often stopped them from removing these encroachments on water bodies. “This is a sensitive issue,” said a senior corporation official.
The corporation has not been able to complete the JNNURM stormwater drain project because of encroachments on Mambalam, MGR, Jafferkhanpet and Kodungaiyur canals. “There could be law-and-order problems if we try to remove the encroachers as they have political patronage,” he said, adding that the delay in completing drain work was the main reason for the severe inundation in core city areas.
Independent researcher and activist Vanessa Peter said the government did not follow the TN Slum Areas (Improvement & Clearance) Act 1971 to ensure the rights of families living in slums. “It’s unfair to shift all slum dwellers to the outskirts without providing basic amenities. Most people who have been rehabilitated in the suburbs are struggling because of lack of schools, poor connectivity and absence of jobs,” she said.