TN: Another Inhumane Eviction of the Poor in Chennai
Chennai: Even as discussions on the draft Tamil Nadu Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy are underway, 69 pavement dwelling families were forcefully evicted from a busy locality in Chennai on October 16.
The evicted families have lived opposite the crowded inter-city Egmore railway station for over 60 years. Overnight, they were shifted 4 kilometres away to a corporation shelter for the urban homeless at Kannappar Thidal.
Chennai city activists intervened and questioned the government for evicting people using police force, without arranging any proper alternate accommodation.
The eviction took place two weeks ahead of the reopening of schools in the state. The families are worried that this could have a direct impact on their children’s education, now that they no longer reside near the schools.
Just a couple of months after the Arumbakkam evictions created a stir in the city, the Egmore evictions have attracted sharp criticism as they bypassed basic protocols despite the fact that the pavement dwellers possessed official proofs such as Aadhar cards, voter IDs, and other residential proofs.
The pavement dwellers on the Gandhi Irwin Road in Egmore said that they were absolutely clueless about the eviction, and that it happened all too suddenly. Without any communication, personnel from the Greater Chennai Corporation removed their belongings and took them away.
Police involvement while the eviction process was on. Image courtesy: Vanessa Peters
Regarding the nature of eviction, Vanessa Peters, founder of Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities, tweeted: “6 days after World Homeless Day @chennaicorp ruthlessly evicts urban homeless families near Egmore using police force. Their belongings were dumped in a lorry and taken away.”
An evicted person told Newsclick, “we would be happy to live in concrete houses rather than on the pavement, but what guarantee do we have that the government would give us permanent accommodation after being uprooted?”
“All our children study in a school here. What would they do now that we are suddenly shifted to a shelter home?” she added.
The evicted families held a protest under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), demanding that they be permitted to remain in the same place until permanent accommodation is ensured. Although they were unwilling to move to makeshift shelters with poor facilities, Egmore MLA I Paranthaman and Chennai corporation paid no heed.
Protest condemning the eviction. Image courtesy: CPI(M) Central Chennai
CPI(M) demanded immediate allocation of houses for the 69 families and no use of police force to threaten them.
WORDS AND ACTIONS INCONSISTENT
The recently released draft Tamil Nadu Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy reads “The purpose of the resettlement should be informed well to the people who are proposed for resettlement” and “a proper announcement of information regarding displacement/eviction of encroachers has to be made”.
However, the government was criticised by activists and academics for not following these protocols in the Egmore evictions.
Vanessa Peters said, “No due processes or consultation was carried out, violating the rights of the families” and how “due notices should have been issued to the concerned persons and a reasonable opportunity to be heard should have been granted”.
Evicted people in the shelter house. Image courtesy: Nilavu Mozhi
Kishore Kumar, a researcher from the University of Massachusetts said, “The draft policy proposes setting up a committee with representation from the affected people, and they can visit the place of settlement and ensure facilities are available. This is a welcome move. These are not in practice now”.
The state recently changed the name of the erstwhile slum clearance board to TN Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB). The name change was seen as a progressive move by many. “But it is not enough to change the nomenclature. The inhumane attitude must change too,” Peters added.
BETTER POLICY NEEDED
The TNUHDB is criticised for giving too little time for providing feedback on the draft policy. Those working for the betterment of the urban poor say that less than a month is too short a period to take the policy to the respective people.
Ahead of implementing the TN Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy, CPI(M) leader from central Chennai G Selva said, “a complete study of the pros and cons regarding the livelihood situation of those who were evicted and resettled must be carried out by the government.”
Regarding the people who are likely to be resettled, Kishore Kumar said, “many of these places were dump yards and sewage areas. It is these people who have made it liveable. They have largely contributed to the city’s development, but they do not have a claim over it. They are told that they are living on ‘occupied land’.”
He added, “The preconception of this policy is to evict people, but that should not be the case. In-situ development should be primary, but the draft policy focuses on ‘sites and settlements’. Eviction is spoken of as inevitable, other possibilities are little considered.”
While the need for a policy is acknowledged by most, the manner in which the policy is proposed and discussed is not criticised. Additionally, the unruly eviction only a few days after the draft policy is uploaded for comments only dims hopes about its effectiveness.
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