Indira Nagar Slum: Undelivered Promises
Mahera Dutta and Krithi Kannan
Devi, a resident of the Indira Nagar slum near Park Town, fears eviction to Perumbakkam, a relocation settlement 40 minutes away from her place of dwelling. “Where will we live? There is no space on that land”, she says.
Devi’s current house is in the crowded Indiranagar slum, one of three contiguous shantytowns along the Cooum river in central Chennai. Indiranagar slum alone houses an estimated 10,000 people, most of whom work as rickshaw drivers, artisans, construction workers, sewage cleaners and sack carriers. The adjoining SN Nagar and Gandhi Nagar slums house another 25,000 people squatting on land that belong to two central and state government ministries.
Former Counsellor of Indira Gandhi Nagar slum, Raj from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), informed that the land is partially owned by three major bodies: The Public Works Department, Chennai Metro Corporation and the defence.
The Cooum river, along whose smelly banks the three slums are huddled is known as a dead river. Its waters are so polluted, it harbours no living create or plant.
The Tamil Nadu Government has issued orders to mitigate and plug sewage flow into the Cooum along with the Adyar river and the Buckingham Canal at an estimated 2, 371 crores.
This developmental project, however, bears a cost: relocation of over 2,000 people from Indira Nagar Slum to Perumbakkam in the next two months in turn affecting their livelihoods.
A New Indian Express report in January 2018 suggested the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board’s (TNSCB) offering to carry out the in-situ redevelopment of the slums under the Union government’s flagship scheme– Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) which aims to house slum dwellers by 2022.
The board stepped in when around 2,990 families residing in the slum faced eviction from the defence ministry.
A year on, slum dwellers face eviction rather than rehabilitation.
A senior official at the Tamil Nadu Housing Board says that the issue of redevelopment of the slum has taken a backseat owing to the fact that the Indira Nagar slums are on land owned by the central government over which the state government has no control.
“The railway is willing to rent the land on a 99-year lease with rent based on commercial value, which is not viable for construction on the land itself,” he said.
S. Kumar, a social worker and resident, gives the example of Parry’s corner, a nearby wholesale market near the slum which is a source of employment for many.
There are disparities even within the three slums that Indiranagar slum is part of. In SN Nagar some people have the so-called patta or title documents even though they are squatting on government land. It has a somewhat regular supply of water and electricity.
In the three slums, brazen alcoholism, high unemployment, petty crime are the major problems according to sources in the local police station in SN Nagar.
Residents of Gandhi Nagar lead somewhat tougher lives: electricity is tapped illegally nearby poles, pay and use toilets remain unmaintained and no real drainage facility exists.
Because no drainage facility exists, people often defecate in the open. Some two months back, two young boys died while defecating on the nearby railway tracks.
The Corporation Primary School in the slum is understaffed. There are only about 35 children from the level of LKG up to standard fifth.
But it is not all gloom and doom. One educational institution, Dhanakoti Middle School, an English medium school is providing free education, books and computers must be counted.
Former Counsellor Raj has been crucial to the development of key infrastructure. He became the Counsellor in the year 2001 and held the position up until 2016.
He takes a pro- relocation stand. “The people are not maintaining their houses properly. They always come up with new problems”, he says.
He maintains the stand that in-situ redevelopment is not a feasible option in the slum given the lack of land in the region. “Half the population must shift out for the betterment of the region”, he insists.
According to Karen Coelho, Professor Madras Institute of Development Studies, arguments securing the rights of the people in the slums along the Cooum can be made on the basis of moral claims based on history and social justice. But these claims are not necessarily legal.
She points towards the fast-changing urban climate. “Urbanisation has become all about high-cost land”, she said.
“The solution (to the problem of housing urban poor) lies in policy. The state must house the urban poor through in-situ redevelopment and up gradation in a way that causes least damage to livelihoods”, she said.
“One cannot pitch the environment against the poor. All of us want a good city to live in. At the same time, we want social justice for all those who reside in it”, she said.