Slum clearance: Why the government must go beyond displacement

As disturbing images of slum dwellers being evicted from Maduravoyal and Aminjikarai appear on media, a concerned citizen raises certain pertinent questions.

Over the past few days, we have been seeing some disturbing pictures of eviction of families from canal banks and sea side tenements. On September 9 and 15, 2015, hundreds of families were evicted from their homes in Maduravoyal and Aminjikarai respectively, with the promise of resettlement in Gudapakkam near Thirumazhisai and Perumbakkam.

I know that this is not an issue that resonates similarly even with my peers, most of whom see this as encroachment that needs to be removed. For the moment, therefore, let us set aside the question of justification.

The point that must nevertheless be considered is that over decades, these settlers had become legalised with proper postal addresses, ration cards, electricity connections, etc. Generations of them have been allowed to survive here, so that this is the only home they have.

Given these facts, we need to find sensitive solutions for these slums which occupy less than 5 percent of cityscape. Surely it is not so difficult  for the Government to do this in a phased manner, by developing a six-month programme to ease them into their new situation?

Some of the possible steps that come to mind in this regard:

  • Provide them all identity and other related documents in the new place, including ration cards, school admissions before moving them
  • Build data on current employment before moving them and find alternative employment or provide transportation facilities so that they can continue in their positions and reach their workplaces
  • Make the new place aspirational by creating a social atmosphere; create flexible job options through industry participation
  • Familiarise them with the new location through frequent assisted trips.
  • Create a welcoming committee in the new place which will ease them into the new surroundings. You could build host committees from existing residents who will take on the job
  • Focus on the children: Havie counsellors hand-hold them through a period of six months considering that evictions are being done mid-term.
  • Partner with NGOs that can bring in qualitative intervention

The most important requisite is of creating a living space that comes with all amenities of health care, education and job opportunities. Entertainment avenues and playgrounds are also a must.We cannot lead them into a ghost town.

Objections and reservations of the evictees must be heard and addressed. We have to believe that people will aspire to move if you provide them wholesome living.

And finally just two questions that are begging answers:

How do we justify the government action of creating 25000 apartments as part of slum clearance in a flood prone area, Perumbakkam, thereby moving them from one disaster prone to another?

Secondly, why is it so difficult to shut off or relocate residents’ complexes and workshops and factories that release untreated sewage into the canals with the same alacrity that is demonstrated in slum clearance?

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