Blassy Boben, Cinthya Anand (Asian College Of Journalism)
Chennai: Slum dwellers across Chennai gathered outside the State Guest House in Chepauk on April 9 to demand the provision of pattas as well as to protest against the existing government policy of evicting slum dwellers from the city and resettling them to the outskirts.
Almost two lakh slum dwellers face being displaced under the various slum rehabilitation projects being carried out under Rajiv Awas Yojna (RAY). RAY is a Central Government scheme that aims to create slum-free cities, promotes in-situ development, i.e. providing accommodation within the city near the original places of residence. The protesters were of the opinion that the government was violating the spirit of RAY by choosing to relocate slum dwellers to far-flung areas instead of engaging in the development of existing slums. As per the 2011 slum survey, almost 29% of Chennai’s total population lives in slums.
The protest, organized by the National Alliance of People’s Movement, Unorganized Workers Federation, Coastal People’s Protection and Pennurimai Iyakkam, was attended by over 100 people. The protesters, comprising mostly of women, included residents of slums in Anna Nagar, Sathyam Nagar, Broadway, Kalkotai as well as members of the fishermen communities from Nochikuppam and Srinivasapuram.
Addressing the gathering, Nagarathnam, from the Unorganized Workers Federation, said that the government welcomed people moving into Chennai by readily providing them with amenities like land, electricity and water. “What about us? Where do we go? The government has no time to listen to our grievances,” she said, urging the crowd to take action.
The protesters demanded the granting of pattas for those who have been living on government-owned land for a period over five years, as previously promised by the Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. The Chief Minister’s announcement had raised the expectations of the people, said Arul Das of the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM). The demand for patta intensified after slum dwellers expressed concern about the resettlement process leading to a loss of educational and livelihood opportunities. To avoid this, they requested that allotments be given closer to existing residential areas.
Another demand was the implementation of the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1971, which calls for the recognition and development of slum areas. The slum dwellers also demanded rehabilitation of those living alongside canal and river banks as well as pakka houses for the fishermen community.
The protesters insisted that the government use its peromboke (waste) land for the benefit of slum dwellers and that housing be provided for the unorganized sector. The demands of the protest also included the implementation of the Supreme Court announcement asking State Governments to provide accommodation for pavement dwellers.
All politicians fight for the rights of slum dwellers until they come into power, explained Das. He opined that the government chose the interests of private players over that of the underprivileged slum dwellers. He pointed out that the government turned a blind eye to the Ampa Skywalk at Nungambakkam, which was found guilty of flouting a host of regulations on account of being situated on the banks of the Cooum river. It is only when the poor people live in the area that the government sees a problem, said Das.