Perumbakkam: the cost of resettlement


Anrina, 29, would like to iron her clothes clothes but is unable to. In her one room tenement, on the first floor of Block H in the old Perumbakkam area the power was out for the second time that day. 

     What we saw: A reporters’ diary

This is not uncommon in this part of Perumbakkam. Maintenance is poor and water is scarce here. Residents say there are a lot of problems at the two Perumbakkams. The garbage does not get picked up in time in some areas. There are health problems but no full-fledged hospitals. The school has bad infrastructure.

However, those residing in the New Perumbakkam tenements are slightly more fortunate. 

A bird’s eye view of the Perumbakkam locality would reflect a well planned resettlement neighbourhood.  It is a whole other story at ground level though: the smell of fetid garbage, the sight of plastic bottles, and sewage running on the streets assault all the senses.

A freshly painted peach coloured building will lead you into dark corridors, with narrow staircases, and low hanging electric cables. In comparison to their old lives, it may only be a slight improvement, but  their futures here are anything but set in stone. 

K. Kannagi,(left) sitting with her neighbour

Perumbakkam houses a total of 180 buildings in the resettlement colonies.The buildings each consist of 8 floors, with two rows of one-bedroom flats facing each other. Some 20,000 families resettled in TNSCB tenements were promised accommodation for a rent of Rs. 750 per month. However, the lack of maintenance, regular water and electricity supply, has forced them to pay around Rs. 2,000 more just for the basic amenities.

The two neighbourhoods share a police booth, that they say remains empty.  “A lot of the residents here are accused in cases of murder and chain snatching,” said D.Monica, a police inspector on duty.

The area has one school, with two separate wings for the primary and secondary sections.

In the new tenements, the residents pitch in for street lights and surveillance cameras that they install outside their buildings. Most of them come from the slums in Saidapet, Anna Nagar, Thousand Lights and Chintadripet that were demolished due to the canal redevelopment project around Cooum river. 

Tenants have even used the resettlement as an opportunity to generate new jobs for themselves. Aminchikari from Chintadripet, who was a fish-seller earlier, shifted to supplying milk in Perumbakkam, a job he considers ‘better and cleaner.’

Small shop within the residential building

In a stark contrast, the by lanes of the old tenements are narrow streets that are alternated by sudden marshes and ponds, brimming with sewage and plastic waste that residents say, hasn’t been cleaned in months. 

The pipe line on the side of K block, drips day and night. On a daily basis, at least a hundred complaints are filed, but few worked on. The TNSCB official said that regardless of what facilities they get, the complaints do not stop. “Electricity, fire extinguisher, water, sanitation, name anything, it is well provided,” said the assistant executive engineer (who wanted to remain anonymous). 

The Perumbakkam series of stories have been reported and written by Group E of the ACJ Print batch of 2020. Group E consists of Mahima Maniar, Shreya Haridas, Shreya Samtani, Shrija Ganguly, Sreya Deb, Srinjoy Sanyal, Srishti Lakhotia, Sukriti Vats, Susmitha Ann Thomas, Tanishka Sodhi, Vallari Sanzgiri.