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TN: Seeking Pattas and Right to Habitat, Thousands Submit Demands to Govt Officials

Neelambaran A |
Lakhs of people living in unused lands face the threat of eviction as DMK changed its stance, citing court rulings.
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Several thousands of people living in government poramboke, dry water bodies, temples and mutt lands took out protest marches and submitted petitions en masse, demanding pattas in all the districts in Tamil Nadu on May 6. In many districts, people resorted to road blockades as officials were unavailable to receive their petitions even as the police tried to prevent them from entering the district collector offices.

The government is accused of removing the people living in these lands, citing court orders. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], which led the protest, demanded the state government provide pattas for undisputed lands and ensure alternate houses or lands for the people living there for more than 40 years.

CPI(M) alleged that while the government and big private houses have constructed buildings and structures by encroaching the water bodies, only the poor and marginalised living in unused lands are being threatened to be evicted on short notice. Around 25 lakh people live in such lands, and any intensified action from the government will leave them homeless, the party added.

PROTESTORS SUBMIT PETITION

The CPI(M) state conference, which was held in Madurai a month ago, had called for a mass petition submission protest on May 6 against the attempts of the state government to evict people living in government, temple, mutt and dry water body lands.

K Balakrishnan, state secretary of CPI(M), questioned the approach of the state government and court rulings setting different benchmarks for eviction for different people.

"How can we call the people living for generations in a location encroachers? While big shots go scot-free, the poor and marginalised who do not even have a couple of cents of land are threatened to be evicted."

K Balakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary and P Sampath, central committee member led the protest held in Chennai

K Balakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary and P Sampath, central committee member led the protest held in Chennai

He questioned the status of land taken over by the government by evicting people.

"After evicting the people, how many water bodies have been recovered by the governments? There is no information available about it. The courts have been continuously passing orders affecting the people's livelihood, which cannot be accepted," Balakrishnan said.

The CPI(M) has demanded to issue pattas to the undisputed lands by changing the category of lands and providing alternate lands/houses to those living in the objectionable lands.

'WHY SET DOUBLE STANDARDS?'

The CPI(M) has accused the state government and the courts of setting double standards when it comes to evicting people. After the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) won the elections exactly a year ago, people hoped to get pattas as the DMK had ensured in its election manifesto.

Residents near the banks of the Cooum river, Egmore and Bethel Nagar, all within Chennai, have faced evictions and threats in recent months.

P Shanmugam, a central committee member of CPI(M), accused the government of double standards. He pointed out two important landmarks in Chennai being built by filling up lakes.

"The Valluvar Kottam and the whole of T Nagar stand over lakes. Once the old city of Chennai had 32 lakes, of which none exist now. The Porur lake, which is now part of greater Chennai, had an area of 800 acres, but only 330 acres remain now," he said.

P Shanmugam led the protest rally in Mayiladuthurai district.

P Shanmugam led the protest rally in Mayiladuthurai district.

The history of encroachments in Porur lake dates back to the 1980s during the regime of late chief minister MG Ramachandran.

"As per revenue records, there are 39,202 lakes in Tamil Nadu. Most of these do not exist now. Several Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) buildings and even the Madurai bench of Madras High Court are built over water bodies," Shanmugam said.

Former CPI(M) MLA K Bala Bharathi and other protesters were prevented from entering the District Collector office in Tirunelveli

Former CPI(M) MLA K Bala Bharathi and other protesters were prevented from entering the District Collector office in Tirunelveli

'THREAT TO 25 LAKH PEOPLE'

The revenue department is issuing notices to the residents of government, dry water bodies, temples and mutt lands as per Tamil Nadu Protection of Tanks and Eviction of Encroachments Act, 2007.

"A woman named Subalakshmi, a mother of two, died by suicide on April 30 after an eviction notice was served to her. The right to habitat must be ensured as lakhs of people don't own any land. These unused and unfertile lands should be provided to those people who truly deserve it," Shanmugam said.

The migration of people from rural areas to urban areas due to agricultural losses is also a factor for people residing in disputable lands.

"The government has recategorised such lands for its purpose on multiple occasions. But when it comes to poor and oppressed people, the government is pursuing delaying tactics," Shanmugam said.

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