Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu: Is the scheme doing more harm than good in Chennai?

RWA members within the community, chosen to implement the scheme in resettlement sites in Chennai, feel alienated from other residents.

In December 2021, the Tamil Nadu government introduced the Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu scheme for residents living in low-income, government housing and resettlement sites managed by the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB).

In this scheme, residents form associations to oversee the maintenance of these sites, with the intention of transferring ownership of their living spaces back to them. This move is significant, especially for the resettlement sites, considering the minimal consultation and abrupt evictions relocated families have faced during the process.

What the scheme entails

The scheme also aims to improve the quality of living in these sites. Perumbakkam, Semmenchery, Kannagi Nagar, and KP Park in Pulianthope among other public housing sites, have issues related to the quality of housing, lack of safety for women, and limited access to basic services like water, healthcare and education.

The question then arises whether splitting the responsibility between the State and the people could help improve living standards here and give residents a sense of belonging.   

Read more: Free breakfast scheme a hit among students in Chennai’s resettlement colonies

In 2017, my family and I were relocated from Thideer Nagar to Perumbakkam, a resettlement site with 12,000 other families. At the time, TNUHDB encouraged us to form a residents’ association and last year, they asked to incorporate us into the scheme.

While I was happy to have the TNUHDB’s support, the scheme has resulted in more problems than solutions. Some of these include differences among residents, a lack of privacy for association members, and a double burden of paying salaries to maintenance workers and collecting money from residents. 

How there was a change in our roles

Before the scheme was implemented, the association would mostly collect around Rs. 50–70 per household — a small amount to buy coffee for the Electricity Board (EB) workers, who came to do maintenance-related work. We would preserve the bills of all costs incurred and interact with Board officials to address basic infrastructure-related issues.

Last year, the TNUHDB approached established associations, like ours, and started speaking to them about being part of the scheme. “We will support you with everything. Just look after the indoor maintenance, we will look after the outdoors,” they said. Indoor maintenance includes paying sweepers, lift attendants, and OTR workers. 

To do this, we would have to collect a maintenance fee of Rs. 750 from everyone in the block. Every three months, the TNUHDB representatives were to come and conduct an audit to take stock of our financials. They were then supposed to provide a matching grant to help us cover costs. According to them, if maintenance costs went above a certain limit, say Rs 30,000, they would also provide additional financial help. 

The officials mentioned that if anyone in the block gave us trouble, they would support us. We were happy with the prospect of this support and began the takeover. 

When we were just starting, we got an initial grant of Rs 2 lakh. Since then, however, we haven’t received any matching grants and it’s a year since we began our work under the scheme. 

The government officials have also not responded to emergencies. Often, they ask us to write a letter in case of a crisis, after which they can respond. Even after letters are written, often it is only community workers attached to the board, who respond to us immediately and try to help.    

The trouble with getting maintenance charges

resettlement site
Many residents living in the homes within the resettlement sites are not happy about paying the high maintenance fees and question the RWA members. Pic: Vanessa Peter.

It has been difficult for residents to pay maintenance charges as they faced undue hardship following the evictions, and later because of COVID-19 restrictions. Take the example of my husband — he rides an auto and during the lockdown, he had no earnings as people were confined to their homes. Now, to take care of a family alone with no income is difficult, how are we going to pay this maintenance fee? 

Many have not been able to recover financially from both the eviction and the lockdown period. After the takeover happened and we went to ask for money, many residents said: “Why should we pay? We got evicted from our property and now are made to pay for this house we didn’t choose?” During the eviction, the officials did not mention the maintenance cost as well. 

Most people in the housing tenements often work for daily wages. They are domestic workers, plumbers, painters, and construction workers. After taking care of the household expenses, there is little left to pay for maintenance.  Moreover, many households are headed by women or include elderly people and persons with disabilities — many of whom lack a steady source of income.

Read more: How flawed eviction and resettlement are triggering child marriages in Chennai

Working out the finances

Hence, there is an accumulated pending maintenance amount due to the Board. While the RWAs collect the monthly maintenance, the Board has been urging people to pay the dues by sticking notices on the buildings.

The notices announced that if people wish to apply for a permanent allotment order, it will only be issued if there is no ‘maintenance cost’ pending with the board or the RWAs. This is further adding to the anger of the communities. 

Currently, out of 93 tenements, only 20–30 households pay their maintenance. This is not enough to pay Rs 12,000 to the lift man, Rs 6,000 to the plumber, Rs. 6,000 to the OTS worker and Rs. 4,000 for the women who come to sweep the block. 

The workers who provide these services are currently employed by our RWA. While they used to be workers hired through government contractors, they lost their jobs once the scheme was introduced. Thus, the burden to provide their income also falls on us, in addition to asking for this money from our neighbours.

Divisions within the block

The takeover has resulted in divisions between us (association members) and the residents of the block. Many see us as extensions of the government and assume we earn money through this work. The bane of all this is the maintenance fee.

People are reluctant to pay the amount. “They never told us that we have to pay maintenance when they evicted us,” is the constant rebuke. Since association members (like me) have to collect the fees, we have become the target of resentment.

The tension is escalating almost to the level of physical violence. We are forced to complain to the police when things cannot be handled. However, the situation is tricky as we are aware of the factors that are pressuring residents to react in this way. 

In reality, we at the association, are working with a social concern. There is no salary involved.  Ultimately, for me, if there is no one communicating with residents in the block, and no leadership, people might feel alienated. To prevent this, we do this work.

However, given the resentment that is building among our neighbours, few of us are contemplating handing over the block back. We cannot keep listening to this kind of abuse. People even bang at the door at night, speaking in a demanding way: “Fix this, this isn’t working!” As a result, we have lost our privacy. 

These fights extend beyond the block as well. Even my husband, who works as an auto driver, often faces trouble at his auto stand. People have asked him, “Why is your wife doing this? You won’t do anything about it?”

No adequate support from the TNUHDB

For many members of the RWAs, this is not our full-time job. Whenever the TNUHDB organises meetings with us, they never announce it well in advance. If there is a meeting at 10 am, they will call us at 9.45 am.

During these meetings, we ask representatives about water issues we have been experiencing in our block. The water has lately been excessively salty, causing rashes and itching in many people. This is technically an ‘outdoor’ responsibility that comes under the TNUHDB’s jurisdiction. Often the representatives tell us to deal with it ourselves given that we have ‘taken over’ the block.  

However, it’s not the same for all blocks. In tenements where the TNUHDB still holds control, there are regular follow-ups with residents and contract government workers are quick to fix problems. People in my block observe this and ask why our block is underserved.

“If that block is availing services why is our block not getting the services, why do we need a RWA? Why did you ‘take over’ in the first place?” one resident asked me.

Suggestions to implement the scheme better

  • Apart from doing an the audit of our collections and expenses every three months, the TNUHDB should also make it a point to interact with people in the housing board sites.
  • The Board officials should show their support to association members in the presence of residents. They could go door-to-door and tell people about the benefits of paying the maintenance fee and for what the money is used. They should do this for the first six months before takeovers. This will prepare residents for any changes.   
  • The Government can put up notices about the rules regarding the scheme, the roles of the association, and the maintenance fees.
  • The maintenance amount should be reduced to Rs 400. We have already made representations to the Board to make this change because as per our calculations, the revised amount would suffice to cover salaries of workers and other expenses.  
  • The Board must ensure basic amenities such as water supply and solid waste management and services like lift maintenance, repair of houses (leakage, seeping of drains) and so on. There is a need for a robust grievance redressal process at the site.   
  • There is also a need for revising the Nam Kudiyiruppu Nam Poruppu scheme in discussion with the existing RWAs, women’s associations and other NGOs working in the resettlement sites, keeping the community’s daily realities and vulnerabilities in mind.

[Written with assistance from Vanessa Peter, Founder of Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC).]

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