Residents of Chennai’s resettlement sites fight against all odds to receive their pension

Resettled citizens face difficulties in accessing even basic entitlements such as pension. Here's how the community is working to change this.

Resettlement sites where those evicted from across Chennai are moved to are known to be constructed in poorly connected areas, with a lack of people-centric infrastructure, often neglected by the state. But another oft neglected complication that arises as a result of the resettlement is that many stop receiving their pension once they move to their new homes.

The reason cited by local officials is that since residents’ addresses change to another district, in this case from Chennai to Chengalpattu district, they would have to file a new application to receive pension. This results in a long drawn out process of getting a new Aadhaar card, opening new bank accounts in the required branch, communicating with the concerned district officials and bank agents.

Oftentimes applications get rejected even after all the necessary documents have been sent in, with hopeful applicants finding out only two months later, at the tahsildar’s office.

Sujatha and Mercy along with Sandhya, Mahalakshmi and Kausalya are the women working with the Chennai based platform, Information and Resource Center for Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) to identify problems faced by those in Ezhil Nagar Resettlement site in Perumbakkam, where they currently live. They mainly work to ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable individuals, in their settlement receive their due pension payments. These include pension for destitute women,  persons with disabilities and elderly people as well.

Mercy and Sujatha provided insights into the process of getting pensions for those in the colony, the challenges faced by them, and the plans for the future.

Background on the eviction

Ezhil Nagar in Perumbakkam is located in the Old Mahabalipuram Road near Shollinganallur, behind the existing resettlement site of Semmenchery. The people of Perumbakkam were initially living in settlements from different parts of the city. Mercy, Sujatha and Sandhya are from Thideer Nagar located on the banks of the Cooum River but were evicted in 2017 by the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB), formerly known as Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. 

“They said that since we live on the banks (of the Cooum River), rain water would flood into our homes, and so we would have to be shifted far away. If you take us 30 kilometers away, what will happen to our kids who go to school here, or those in the orphanage? We were working for years in these jobs, we wanted to stay here itself. We protested the eviction, however the officials told us that since the area comes under the PWD, patta couldn’t be given, and so we could be evicted from the area,” said Mercy.

Currently five women including Mercy and Sujatha, work under IRCDUC as community leaders to help people with problems in the site address issues such as leakages, drainage problems, water supply etc. They usually go door to door (with the help of volunteers from the women’s association) and ask people about the problems they are facing and communicate these to the concerned officials. For problems such as leakages and infrastructural issues, they usually approach the TNUHDB and get it resolved.

As part of their initial field work with IRCDUC, they surveyed all the tenements in each block (the colony consists of a total of 126 blocks), to first identify key issues; the most prominent of these issues was that many had stopped recieving their due pensions. Before evictions, the pensions were coming in, and after eviction, it came in for 2 months after which it stopped.

“When we asked the Tambaram Corporation, they said we had moved out of Chennai and into Chengalpattu (previously under Kanchipuram district), and so we wouldn’t receive pensions anymore,” reported Sujatha.

Sujatha is a person with disability who is working towards empowerment of persons with disability in Perumbakkam.

Steps taken to ensure access to pension

The women prepared details of 300 beneficiaries whose pensions had stopped and took it to the Chengalpattu collector, with the support of IRCDUC. They managed to assist in securing pensions for many of the elderly people and those with disabilities in the colony. However, the problem is far from resolved as many more eligible beneficiaries are yet to receive pensions.

“I was actually receiving pensions for disability when we were staying in Thousand Lights, amounting to around Rs 1000 per month. But this stopped once the resettlement happened actually. The pension for widows, old people, all of this was stopped. This is why we went and wrote up to the collector. The five of us, organized by the IRCDUC, met the Chengalpattu collector who then introduced us to the Tambaram corporation office”, said Sujatha.

The Tambaram Tahsildar informed them that the change of location was the main reason for why many are not receiving their pensions. He had also advised them to open an account for everyone in Sholinganallur as a first step to filing a new application. So far around 700 people have taken their help to get pensions, and people are still approaching them to apply.

Pensions Perumbakkam
The colony has an office where people can ask for assistance related to pensions and infrastructural problems. Pic: M. Mercy

Read more: In Chennai’s resettlement colonies, life comes full circle with the floods

The process for filing an application

The pension application is filed to the Tahsildar in Tambaram Corporation. Prior to this an account should be opened for applicants in the bank.

“To get pension first you have to open bank accounts for people. We were told to open bank accounts for people in Indian Bank, Shollinganallur. Every morning we go to the bank at 10am and come back at 2pm, opening accounts for around 10 people per day. After this we fill in which category the applicant falls under, attach a copy of the ration card, Aadhar card, two photos and register them at the E Sevai Mayyam. From here we photocopied the documents and send it to the Village Officer, who then sends it to the Tahsildar. After receiving the Tahsildar’s sign, the pension should automatically come in a month or two ” said Sujatha.

Pensions are offered to destitute women, persons with disabilities, elderly people, among other official categories. If you are a widow, you would need to provide the husband’s death certificate. For those with disabilities, a separate identity card for disability should be provided.

While many have these documents ready, a number of residents do not have ration cards, gas bills, etc. Sujatha also mentioned how they try to help provide documentation for those who do not have identification. “If one doesn’t have ration card, we would send them to the ration office, to open up a ration card or Aadhar for them. We would write them detailed directions for what to do if we cannot make it to the office with them.”

Need for social security in resettlement sites

Sujatha highlighted how there are barely any work opportunities in the area where they have been shifted to. Since the colony is 30 kilometers away from where they used to be, in a rather disconnected area from the main city, many people, especially those who are elderly and disabled are finding it hard to travel or find work.

“The people here (in Perumbakkam) also don’t trust us saying we come from slums. Many spread rumours about how there are ‘accused’ people among us, and don’t give us work”, she added.

This way the pension amounting to Rs 1000 would be very helpful, considering the systemic denial of opportunities in the area. Many elderly people have approached the community leaders to help with pensions so that they can buy themselves medicines as many of their children have stopped sending them monetary assistance. In one case a woman was sending money to her elderly parents without her husband’s knowledge. To avoid this, they sought out help with applying for pension.

When asked about how responsive government officials have been, to the needs and demands of those in the colony, the answers were mixed.

Sujatha mentions how in the beginning, the government barely paid attention to them after the eviction. “The government during the eviction process, didn’t consider us, or treat us like humans. Only now (after people have approached officials and carried out some sort of intervention) they are coming and seeing the conditions we live in. They didn’t think that we have put this people in this area, how are they going to manage, nothing.”

Mercy however mentioned how currently both the District Administration and TNUHDB are quite responsive, and quick to help out when they can. For example, a free Aadhaar camp was set up for people in the colony as many people couldn’t afford the 150 rupee fee often collected at enrollment centers, for getting their Aadhaar ready. However, these measures seem quite futile at times, as only very few people get to avail the benefits and there is no sustainable action.

“For a few people we managed to change the addresses in these camps. However, these camps are only held for one day. In addition, they are only there for half a day till 2pm. With the rush of everyone wanting their documents ready, one day is really not enough. So whatever purpose we have set this up for, it often doesn’t get completed.”

Pensions Perumbakkam
While camps to avail necessary services without cost, are set up, often many people are not able to avail these. Pic: M Mercy

Read more: Government should not use slum eviction to further ‘Singara Chennai’ agenda : Migration expert

Unexpected rejections and the plan ahead

According to Mercy, often applications get rejected and applicants are not even told the same, until they go all the way to the Tambaram Office to check. These applications are often rejected due to small technicalities in the identification process. Since many people who apply are elderly or widowed, their ration cards are often in the name of their sons or deceased husband respectively; this often leads to applications getting rejected.

“When their children marry, elderly people will be living alone here. Their children often don’t send any monetary assistance. If they want to apply for an Old Age Card (OAC), the verification requires the ration card and if it is in the son’s name or shows that the person has many family members, then they reject the application citing that applicant has a ‘source of income’. The attitude seems to be, that since you have sons to send you money, why should the state assist you?” said Mercy.

In another case, a woman working as a domestic helper was applying for pension under the category of ‘destitute woman’. Once the application was filed and the pension didn’t arrive two months later, she along with a few others, accompanied by Mercy, went to the Tahsildar’s office only to find out that her application had been rejected; the reason provided was that she didn’t belong to the ‘below poverty line’ category.

According to Mercy, “Most people in the colony are living in poverty, below the poverty line. In this woman’s case, she doesn’t have money to buy food and often she is given food by her neighbours. Her son can’t attend to her and doesn’t send money to her. When people are living like this, how can you say that they are not below the poverty line, and deny them the assistance that they need?”

This has been a recurring obstacle in the process. In the last two weeks more than six people’s applications have been rejected this way. Those working to assist in getting pensions for the community do not know what to do either.

According to Mercy, the only thing they can do is assist people i.e. to take people to open the bank accounts, register them in the E-Seva app, and the Village Office, and then check the status of applications months later. When applicants’ status as destitute or below the poverty line is questioned or rejected by the state, the matter becomes extremely complicated.

“We also are part of this community, we also don’t have the income to provide monetary help. Ultimately, we do all the things required, however, at the end this gets rejected by the government unexpectedly. When people found out that their application got rejected, they started to cry, they weren’t able to understand why”, said Mercy. She added that many are elderly and find it difficult to speak to officials, and answer all their questions and that this has become the main problem in accessing benefits. “If the process for these people was easy, the 1000 rupees would be very useful. We are in a rut with this. On consulting with IRCDUC, they told us to speak to the collector on the issue.”

Currently, there is a plan to identify all those who haven’t received their pensions even after applications have been filed. Once the identification is completed, all those who haven’t received pensions, will be taken to the collectors office to find out what can be done. The identification process is being carried out by the 5 community leaders at present with hope for a fruitful outcome. 

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