Tamil Nadu Slum Board fails to meet its objective of slum-free cities and why

Mired in corruption, the Board is being probed for poor quality of construction. A special calling motion has been called against former deputy chief minister OPS who held the housing and urban development portfolio in the last regime

The issue of corruption in Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board came to fore once again after former Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s name came up during investigation into lack of amenities and irregularities in KP Park apartments, a slum rehabilitation project in Chennai.

The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) was founded by DMK supreme leader late M Karunanidhi in 1970 to clean our cities of slums. Today, shanties have multiplied and so has corruption related to the Board.

Financial bunglings in TNSCB came to fore once again after former Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s name came up during investigation into lack of amenities and irregularities in KP Park apartments, a slum rehabilitation project in Chennai.

The residents of KP Park complained of lack of basic amenities such as water connection, power supply and drainage line. They said the contractors and engineers built sub-standard houses which have leaking ceilings, broken doors and damaged staircases.

Following the allegations, Minister for Slum Clearance Board Tha Mo Anbarasan visited the housing unit and promised the people that necessary action will be taken. Anbarasan said that a team from IIT Madras will study the construction quality of KP Park and submit a report within a couple of days. As a first step, two staff members of TNSCB have been suspended.

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While the DMK government gives an impression that it will act tough, the problem with the slum clearance board is much deeper.

From shanties to concrete houses

The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board was set up in September 1970 under then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to make Chennai slum-free by 2023. Kesava Pillai Park in Pulianthope, Egmore, was first opened to people in 1980 with 1,536 housing units. Each house in the ground+four complex measured 280 sq ft. In 2008, the TNSCB brought down dilapidated houses and construction of new houses began. At first, it built 672 houses in four years and handed them over to the respective owners.

The remaining 864 dilapidated houses were destroyed in 2016. By the time the construction of new buildings was over, the residents were asked to move to makeshift camps, which lacked in basic amenities like toilets and hygiene. As a result, about 500 families had to move to slums once again. Those who could afford shifted to rented places. As of today, only 120 families are living in the KP Park.

Meanwhile, in 2018, the TNSCB started building nine floor apartments at an estimated cost of Rs 112.61 crore. The apartment had 864 housing units and were constructed under the Union government scheme — Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. The construction was completed in May 2019.

Each house has a built up area of 400 sq ft with a budget value between Rs 9.50 lakh and Rs 13.17 lakh. The Union government contributed Rs 1.50 lakh, the state gave Rs 7 lakh and the beneficiary was supposed to pay Rs 1.50 lakh.

However, the allottees alleged that they were not told beforehand about contributing Rs 1.50 lakh each. It was only after the state government passed an order in October 2020, that the beneficiaries came to know that they need to pay up.

“The people living here are mostly employed with the unorganised sector. They have been badly affected by the pandemic and the consequent lockdown. At this juncture, how can the government expect them to pay such a big amount?” asked Vanessa Peter, a policy researcher with the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities.

Notably, some of the residents got a house here under ‘Hire Purchase Scheme’, also implemented by the TNSCB. Under this scheme, each beneficiary has to pay Rs 150 to Rs 250 on a monthly basis for a period of 20 years. At the end of 20 years, the beneficiary was supposed to get a sale deed of the flat.

The residents allege that even after paying all the installments, they have not been given the sale deeds.

“Discussions with the residents reveal that the October 2020 government order does not elaborate whether those with sale deeds have to pay again for the houses, or the number of installments in which the beneficiaries contribution has to paid for those who do not have sale deeds. The families demand that they should not be charged again,” Peter said.

Also read: Govt strikes off names of 11,217 TN companies post I-T raids

If the families are pushed to pay, they will have to approach micro finance companies, which makes them a victim of another vicious cycle, Peter added.

It is interesting to note that people from the slums staying on the banks of Cooum river are also given houses here but the Chennai River Restoration Trust paid on behalf of the beneficiaries. Whereas, people living here for the last 40 years, are now expected to pay Rs 1.5 lakh to own a house.

“The government must waive the amount. It must consider this on humanitarian grounds since shelter is one of the key basic rights for any human,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor Iyakkam.

The residents of KP Park complained of lack of basic amenities such as water connection, power supply and drainage line.

Contractor to be blamed

At this outset, the PST Engineering Construction, the company which carried out the construction of these housing units, has claimed that there is no fault in the construction quality since the project was okayed by the Department of Structural Engineering, Anna University and the TNSCB after a thorough study.

“After the construction was done, these houses were used as COVID-19 treatment centres for more than a year. During this period, a lot of medical equipment were carried through staircases and that is how the damages must have happened,” a statement issued by the company said.

It also added that cases were filed at Basin Bridge P4 police station against miscreants who damaged the houses and committed thefts there.

Notably, it was the same contractor who constructed a check dam in Villupuram district and built a government medical college in Namakkal district.  While the check dam collapsed after it was inaugurated in September 2020, the roof of the portico of the medical college collapsed during construction in October 2020.

“Even after the media brought out the poor quality of construction to light, there has been complete lack of transparency with respect to the project,” alleged Venkatesan.

“To this date, the slum clearance board has not published information relating to the tender and its conditions, name of the contractor, name of the third party appointed to check qualityetc,” said Venkatesan.

The NGO has also demanded a probe into the role of former deputy chief minister OPS in this case since OPS held housing and urban development portfolio in the last regime, which controls the TNSCB.

Meanwhile, DMK MLA from Egmore constituency I Paranthamen has moved a special calling motion against OPS and sought criminal proceedings against him.

The staff of PST Engineering Construction were not available for comment.

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