Over 100 families near Buckingham Canal at Chennai’s Raja Annamalai Puram are panicking in fear. They have already lost one of their neighbors who set himself on fire in an attempt to stop the state government’s eviction campaign.
Meanwhile, women alongside their children squat on Elango Street in Govindasamy Nagar with their belongings by their side. They are taken to see a mountain of debris that was once their home where they shared all the happy memories.
On Tuesday, hundreds of police were deployed from both sides of the Govindasamy Nagar to avoid any public order issues as the body of Kanniah, who set himself on firewas kept outside his house for the public and political leaders to pay their respects.
Since the start of the eviction campaign in the area on April 29, when officials from the Water Resources Department (WRD) and the Tamil Nadu Urban Housing Development Board (TNUHDB) with the support of the police razed the buildings, locals claim they had barely anything or slept peacefully.
Activists said officials failed to follow the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the government a month ago to handle the eviction in a dignified manner.
Geetha (45), a housewife, who has been with her family for more than four decades, says officials never really bothered to explain to them why they wanted to demolish their homes.
“They just said they had a court order to demolish the houses. We don’t know what order, who complained, etc. We asked them to show the details but it was no use as they started bringing in bulldozers to start the work. We were all given tokens from our alternate residences and told to move there immediately. We begged them to give us some time saying that our children have their public exams but they were in no mood to heed our requests. They broke into our locked houses and threw the items on the road. I was begging them clinging to their feet to leave my house, but they didn’t,” she said.
Asked about the Chief Minister’s assurance to provide them with accommodation in Mandaveli and Mylapore, Geetha says they cannot imagine going to a new place after staying in this land and breathing the air here throughout his life. life.
“We don’t want more money or anything, we just want the government to let us live in peace here. I was born here, I was raised here and I want to die here,” she added.
Geetha says local children are traumatized by the eviction campaign. She says leaders talk about raising the next generation and moving them forward in society, but these kinds of incidents take them back to a dark past.
“They (the students) have just started going back to school after the pandemic and now we are being pushed into this situation where we live in fear every minute. Our future is doomed,” she said.
R Geetha of Pen Urimai Iyakkam (Women’s Rights Movement) who filed the indictment in the Supreme Court, says the place is nearly 50ft from the Buckingham Canal, but authorities have demolished the buildings for the past 10 days and yet there has been no lawsuit or action against the buildings which are located on the other side which are barely 20 feet from the canal.
“It’s because of an individual called Rajiv Rai who has a large apartment layout. For him, to increase the price of apartments, he wants a second access road and he does not want these people to be there. So that is the reason behind all the dramas. He originally filed a case for the second access road, then turned it into a public interest litigation (PIL) saying that these people encroached on a water resource. He wanted them moved to another location,” she said.
Geetha added that prior to the Chief Minister’s announcement in the State Assembly on Monday, residents had been housed far and wide in places like Navalur, Perumbakkam, Ezhil Nagar and Kannagi Nagar.
“The alternative accommodation offered by the officials was 40-50 kilometers from this area. The majority of women and men here are day labourers, what will they do if told to go that far? a right to land, they have been here for sixty years. They are not blocking the way of the water, they are not disturbing anyone. The government should give them justice,” she said.
According to the affidavit filed by the Tamil Nadu government in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it was noted that all 259 tenements have been kept ready for occupancy with all basic amenities like electricity, water, etc.
However, residents said those who had moved to Perumbakkam have returned as there are no basic facilities, including electricity. The majority of them said they were provided with houses on the seventh floor and it was impossible for elders and other people with illnesses to go up and down.
Prashanth (28), who runs a drinking water supply business, says police roughed up residents and spared no one, including women.
“On Sunday (May 8) they started demolishing the front part of the street and suddenly started demolishing the houses on the central part as well. When (VG) Kanniah (60) set himself on fire, no policemen came forward to save him. We were the ones who ran to put out the fire. The officials standing there just told us to put him on the other side and continued to demolish the buildings. They value us less than the slippers they wear. If they had taken care of him and taken him to the hospital immediately, he would be alive today. He sacrificed his life for the people of this area “, did he declare.
He added that the government had provided all of them with identity cards, including Aadhaar and voter cards, and that they were regularly paying property taxes and electricity bills. “If we have encroached on the area, as officials claim, why would the government ask us to pay all these bills?” He asked.
Another resident, Usha, said that when she pleaded with the authorities to avoid the demolition of their homes, saying her children were taking their council exams, the authorities asked the children to show their entrance tickets and after having confirmed that they were writing their class X. and XII exams, they marked their houses but told the locals that they could only stay for three days.
“The exam takes place over a month, how can we stay here for three days? Can our children travel so far to their schools here to take the exams? ” she asked.
She added that the authorities had no official letters or government documents to show people before demolishing their homes.
“They didn’t care if they had any clearance letter on them. They just had a rough note that had the residents’ names and numbers next to them. They just put a mark on every name after demolishing one house after another,” she said.
Chitra (42), a day laborer who lost her husband just five months ago, says she was taken to the streets and her future looks bleak. “My daughter is in second grade. She hasn’t been to college for a week. We ladies had no place to take a bath. We changed our dress inside the auto-rickshaws. How many days can I stay with a relative with adult children? The situation is terrible. How can I leave my daughter alone in an unfamiliar place and go to work? We don’t know who is residing above and below us in this new housing that the government is planning to provide for us. The police mistreated us and made fun of our situation. When I asked a policeman to provide me with accommodation in Padappai rather than Perumbakkam, he replied that he could show me “Padayappa” (a Tamil movie) but he could not give me a house in Padappai. All his colleagues laughed at this joke. What harm have we done to face this humiliation? she asked.
However, a senior official deployed to monitor the eviction campaign denied any form of high-handedness and abuse by the police. “We never mistreated them; the buildings were demolished in accordance with court orders. Notices were pasted before and told to leave, but they didn’t. The locals tried to stop the process so we moved them, we never pushed or used offensive words as claimed,” he said.
The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that the relief sought in the application was another weak attempt to block the entire process that authorities should have completed long ago. The court also said that the claimants’ fear that alternative premises would not be suitable is unfounded.
“The allocation of premises in Perumbakkam, Kannagi Nagar, Ezhil Nagar and Navalur was also made to other occupants and they accepted it without any objection. Applicants are free to use these premises as offered. Any deficiencies in this regard may be reported to the relevant collector or the chief executive/commissioner of the local body,” the court observed. The Supreme Court will hear the case again on July 12.