Slums line the canal bank near Park Town Station, Chennai
Chennai: A stone’s throw away from Park Station is the huge settlement of Sathyavani Muthu Nagar. Built on acres of defence land, S M Nagar is occupied by nearly 2500 families, most of them occupied by migrants who work as coolies, construction workers and auto rickshaw drivers. Just one public toilet functions for the entire settlement.
Inspite of the overcrowding and lack of basic facilities, residents are reluctant to move. Ismail, a welder, sold his flat in Kannagi Nagar and returned to live in a hut below the bridge. “In Kannagi Nagar there are a lot of problems, no water, no electricity, and there’s a lot of drugs, drinking and goondaism. This place feels much safer.”
His concern is echoed by residents of other slum areas, who have been put off by the lack of facilities and job opportunities in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board’s resettlement colonies.
Kuppamal, a fifty year old domestic help who lives in a slum area near the Thirumylai MRTS station, says, “I won’t shift to Kannagi Nagar or Semmenchery even if the government forces us to. I make 800 a month here cleaning houses in the nearby apartments. How can I be sure of finding work elsewhere? On my salary I can’t afford to travel the distance every day.”
A large part of funding for the TNSCB’s recent constructions comes from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) scheme.
“Of late, a big part of JnNURM funds are being used for building resettlement colonies, from the BSUP (Basic services to the Urban Poor) component of the scheme. Almost 30,000 tenements are being built in Perumbakkam and Ezhil Nagar, at the cost of around Rs. 1073 crores. This is about 77% of the BSUP funding for Chennai,” says Priti Narayanan, Researcher with Transparent Chennai, an NGO working for the rights of slum dwellers. She adds that this goes against the basic spirit of JnNURM, which stipulates that tenure security must be provided to the urban poor.
The Rajiv Awas Yojana emphasizes in situ development of slums with tenure security, both for declared slums and informal settlements. “In Chennai, survey of slums for the Rajiv Awaas Yojana is going on right now”, says Priti. “This seems like a good opportunity for pushing for in situ development.”
In the 1970s, Chennai had a fairly inclusive policy towards slums. The state passed the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Act in 1971, which stated that the government needed to first identify slums according to the definition given in the Act, officially recognize them or ‘declare’ them under the Act, and then improve them by adding basic services or by building better housing in-situ.
The Corporation declared 1,202 slums in 1971 and built thousands of in-situ tenements under the World Bank funded Madras Urban Development Programs (MUDP) and the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Programs (TNUDP). However, as per records from Transparent Chennai, no new slums have been identified since 1986. Over the decades, new slums have grown and the people settled there live in constant fear of eviction.
As per the 2002-03 enumeration by TNSCB & PWD, 15354 families reside illegally on the banks of the Buckingham canal. Of these nearly 3500 families were evicted until 2002.
With the slum survey under the Rajiv Awas Yojana due to be completed by the end of March, researchers hope that the Chennai Corporation recognizes the long standing demand for in-situ development of slum areas.
(Data on slum enumeration taken from Transparent Chennai)