A flurry of activities around Tamil Nadu government’s eviction drive in Chennai recently has turned the spotlight on how the state has been going about its evictions and resettlements.
Following major opposition from residents during the eviction drive carried at Govindasamy Nagar in Raja Annamalaipuram, Chennai, Chief Minister MK Stalin said in the Assembly that, in future, before carrying an eviction drive, a public hearing would be held about the resettlement areas.
“A new policy will be framed soon on resettlement. Evicted residents demand that they should be resettled in the vicinity of their earlier settlements. They will be allotted houses by the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) in the new housing units which are under construction in Mandaveli and Mylapore (which are near to the encroached area),” he said.
It is interesting to note that in an affidavit filed by the Tamil Nadu government in a case related to this eviction at the Supreme Court on May 10, it had said that all the 259 tenements were kept ready with all the basic amenities. But the photographs available with The Federal show that the resettlement tenements are incomplete.
‘Eviction targeted to boost construction industry’
The current eviction drive is not the first of its kind. It is a part of the state government’s over-three-decades-old beautification drive for Chennai. It has created resettlement areas in eight places, all of which are in the outskirts of the city. The first of the lot, at Kannagi Nagar in north Chennai, came in the late 1990s.
Following the tsunami in 2004 and floods in Chennai in 2015, evictions were speeded up on the premise of removing encroachments from places which once water bodies were situated. But, activists allege, most evictions were aimed at increasing the real estate value of the particular region.
“Let’s take the current issue as an example,” Sebastian, coordinator, Urban Habitat – Land Rights Federation, told The Federal. “The government had surveyed and allotted 400 sq ft to residents, who are now termed as ‘squatters’, way back in 1971 through the slum clearance board, which is the current TNUHDB. It was a declared slum and announced as ‘unobjectionable land’ in 2005. Under the state government’s GO number 267/567, the residents should have been given pattas. Until then they are considered encroachers. So, the fault lies entirely with the government. The inertia of the government in implementing the GO has resulted in the eviction.”
“The government had given water connection, power and all the other basic amenities to these areas and then suddenly it decided to evict the people under the guise of clearing encroachments. This has become a pattern,” Sebastian claimed.
“In most of the eviction drives, the government cites saving water bodies as the sole reason. However, once the eviction was carried out and people were removed, there has been no signs of reclaiming or maintaining the water bodies. Instead, it builds bridges, parks and other buildings, thereby boosting the construction and real estate industry,” he added.
In April 2022, the government came up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to make evictions more dignified for the residents. The SOP includes engaging packers and movers to help residents shift their properties to resettlement areas, and organising camps to make changes in ration cards, Aadhaar cards and voter identification cards according to their new resettlement address.
The missing draft resettlement policy
In October 2021, the government had created a draft resettlement policy and made it available for comments from the public on the TNUHDB website. The draft gave thrust to three major aspects — pre-resettlement activities, resettlement activities and rehabilitation. While the pre-resettlement activities include holding a public consultation about the resettlement area, resettlement includes entitlements like subsistence allowance, exemption of stamp duty and registration fee, skill development training and economic assistance for self-employment. The rehabilitation plan stipulates that all the welfare programmes should reach the resettled families within three years.
Also read: The deep chasm dug up by Assam govt’s eviction drive
“All the ideas suggested in the draft policy are well and good,” M Antony Stephen, assistant professor and head, department of social entrepreneurship, Madras School of Social Work, told The Federal. “Based on the draft, we have conducted a public consultation in Chennai and Trichy and we too have given some recommendations that can be included in the final policy. Unfortunately, the draft policy is now unavailable on the website.
“If the draft gets some final touches and is implemented, more than half of the problems arising out of the evictions can be avoided. But for that the government should have a will to pass such a policy. Just because the Supreme Court has said (to carry out the evictions), the government cannot wash off its hands and remain silent,” he added.
‘Resettlement — children’s rights overlooked’
According to a study by Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) in February 2022, over the past two decades, more than 60,000 families were forcibly evicted from Chennai and resettled in the outskirts. The study found that 96 per cent of the evictions between 2015 and 2020 were due to restoration of water bodies.
“Of the 69 settlements evicted between 2015 and 2020, 60 were evicted during the middle of the academic year. Only in five cases, processes like Social Impact Assessments and Resettlement Action Plans were prepared prior to the evictions. Almost 99 per cent of the settlements evicted did not receive legal notices,” the study said.
Violation of UN guidelines
In all of these resettlement areas, there are problems galore regarding th quality of the buildings, access to schools and hospitals, inclusion in social welfare schemes like public distribution system, water, sanitation, waste management, transportation, livelihood and employment. Above all, evictions and resettlement activities are done when the board exams are going on, exposing children to additional at stress, said experts.
Also read: Slum eviction drive may have caused Chennai’s lowest voter turnout
Talking to The Federal, Vanessa Peter, founder, IRCDUC, said the forced eviction by the state government violates the UN’s Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, which clearly stipulate that evictions must not violate the rights of children and “must not be carried out before or during school examinations”.
“As has been well-documented globally, the process of eviction is traumatic for children, as most of them are unable to understand and gauge the full implications of the sudden appearance of police personnel and bulldozers around their homes. The experience of having one’s home torn down, often with violence and trauma, which is often accompanied with an increased vulnerability of the family, can leave an indelible mark on the child. The loss of home, community and security severely impacts children. Many children continue to suffer from psychological trauma and stress for a long time” Peter said.