Chennai Floods, Evictions and Livelihoods : Stories from Kannagi Nagar and Ezhil Nagar

Sensing an opportunity brought by the floods, the State Government has scaled up the eviction of working class families from slums in the city to suburb rehabilitation settlements inspite of protests by various movements and unions, who are demanding safe and adequate public housing all over the city. Kannagi Nagar, along OMR already has over 15000 families who have been evicted and rehabilitated over the last 15 years. The neighboring Ezhil Nagar is expected to add another 8000 families.

Saidapet Atthuma Nagar 2

Over 1500 families of Saidapet Atthuma Nagar are being sent to Ezhil Nagar tenements. Trucks organized by Government were offloading families and their meager belongings. A camp set under the banner of Chief Minister was administering the rehabilitation efforts. There seems to be no method in the madness as an old lady and her grand daughter were allotted a flat on the 3rd floor. As families were given allotments, they were also given Rs 5000 in cash.

Makeshift Administration Camp

The shell shocked communities, some of whom had seen their entire huts washed away, have been coopted into the process especially with the guarantee of Rs 2500 per month maintenance fee paid to residents by the Government for next 1 year. According to them, the Government has also promised to arrange for education by helping the students move to local school or provide a transport to the existing school for the current school year. The Government workers are working hard with plumbing and electricity for these tenements. One house we saw had a fan installed but no lights.

The residents of the next building(adjacent to where the Saidapet residents were moving) in Ezhil Nagar must have cursed their fate as their evictions took place 6 months ago. These ex-residents of New Erikarai and Old Erikarai of Jafferkhanpet had been evicted and shifted to Ezhil Nagar for the past 6 months over a period of 3 months. The building also has residents from slums of Mayor Ramanathan Salai, who had been evicted, but not allotted housing since 2007. The Government has finally given them an allotment. The contrast in the eviction process between then and now exposes the politics of eviction during calamities and other invisibilized times.

All those evicted from Jafferkhanpet were given food for 3 days and nothing else. Instead, they were asked to pay Rs 2500 when they moved and TNSCB has asked them to pay Rs 19000 for allotment(Rs 16000 if they are dalits and have a community certificate) with in 5 months of their move. During this period, they were also charged Rs 300 per month. The residents assume this to be water and electricity charges but in reality, this could be the rent they will pay for over 20 years before they are even given housing title. Since it has been over 5 months, the authorities have stopped collecting the rent and have threatened to seal their houses. One wonders where they will be evicted to?

These are mainly daily wage workers including domestic work, painting, construction work, street vendors etc. One young worker is a temporary machine operator in Guindy. Earlier, his commute was about 2 km now he needs to travel for over 1 hour for work. During the rains, the roads from Kannagi Nagar to OMR was flooded and could not be reached and this young man had to skip work for 10 days and does not know if he will be paid wages for these days. Those working as domestic workers and street vendors have not been as fortunate and have had to give up work. One domestic worker who moved back to Jafferkhanpet after eviction, has moved back to Ezhil Nagar as Jafferkhanpet was flooded out. Workers complain of lack of opportunities in this neighborhood. There is an unwritten ban on employing workers from Kannagi Nagar, they say.

Some workers like the driver from MGR Nagar have yet to be alloted a house. Even though he has a voter ID and aadhar card, he did not have a ration card and hence has not been allotted the house. He is currently paying over 1500Rs per month rent to an Ezhil Nagar flat allotee, in order to stay in Ezhil Nagar. Several pensioners have found themselves out of pension since they moved to Ezhil Nagar. When they approached the Revenue Department in Jafferkhanpet, the officials are reported to have said that now that they own 2 lakh worth of property, they are not eligible for pension and if they wanted pension, they should give up their right to housing in writing.

The older Kannagi Nagar neighborhood is a mute spectator, possibly reliving its past as it witnesses newer residents moving in. Those who were moved in the aftermath of last calamity, the tsunami, were themselves affected by the rains as flood waters inundated the ground floor. The residents say that water mixed with sewage and shit washed into their houses and they had to wash it off repeatedly. They say that they moved temporarily to the empty Ezhil Nagar apartments when their apartments were flooded.

The older tenement residents say that there was no relief provided to these communities as most of the relief was given in Ezhil Nagar. A medical camp was conducted in the area. Several houses from 2 floor tenements(housing tenements stepped up from 2 floors to 3 floors to 4 floors in Ezhil Nagar) near the Canal suffered much more as the canal filled up.

A housekeeping worker, in a contract service with CTS, had to wade the water to reach the main road and to work. She did not miss a day of work as she is on contract service. She and other housekeeping workers had to bear the burden of cleaning the water logged offices and were not paid any extra wages. She said that some other companies had paid Rs 3000 extra but her contractor did not pay.

Kannagi Nagar Flower Vendor

During the floods, the buses did not ply to Kannagi Nagar and stopped at OMR Road. The workers had to wade the water at 3-4 feet to get to main road. A flower vendor who was evicted from Annai Sathya Nagar in early 2000s could not work for over 2 weeks as there was no means to source her raw materials.

The location and the process of eviction of  slums is a telling of the importance being accorded to working class in the neo urban smart city led development. The shock experienced by the city due to the floods and the critical look at governance failure that led to the failure has made the Government extra sensitive to the needs of the working class, as seen by the promise of allowance support for up to one year for the evictions. However, that this is not a policy but a reactionary measure, as evinced by evictions even few months ago, only highlights the indifference of the Government to the plight of the slum residents. That the slums in one low lying area are only being shifted to another low lying area, which itself was affected by floods, is not a lesson to be learnt in the context of public housing for working class.

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