Unsafe spots, weak policing, poor support for violence victims: Safety audit reveals issues

The audit conducted by women in resettlement sites in Chennai recommends better coordination between government departments.

In recent years, the resettlement sites in Chennai have become areas of concern due to many infrastructure and safety challenges affecting their residents. People in resettlement sites like Perumbakkam, Semmencherry, Kannagi Nagar, and other places grapple with problems of inadequate water supply, deteriorating housing quality, insufficient police presence, lack of streetlights and so on.

In Part 2 of the two-part series on women-led safety audits of resettlement sites, we look at the findings of the recent audits and recommend improvements and policy changes.        

Here are some of the key findings of the safety and infrastructure audits in the resettlement sites:

Lack of basic services 

The resettled women emphasised the importance of well-maintained and accessible public spaces, increased law enforcement presence, and effective grievance redress mechanisms. Water supply and quality are critical issues. Old, rusted pipelines and water contamination with sewage water plague the settlements causing health risks. Regular water supply and monitoring, along with interim solutions like hand pumps, are necessary to ensure residents’ access to safe drinking water.

Read more: Empowering resettled communities through women-led safety audits in Chennai

Inadequate educational and recreational spaces

Educational and recreational infrastructure also requires attention. Inadequate school facilities, absence of playgrounds, and poorly maintained parks and libraries hinder the development and well-being of children and youth. Establishing new schools, improving existing ones, and ensuring proper maintenance of recreational facilities are crucial steps.

Unsafe surroundings 

Major concerns include dark and unsafe spots, instances of stalking, drug use, and inadequate police patrolling. Inside tenements, issues such as nighttime disturbances and drug availability further exacerbate the situation. Addressing gender-based violence is a challenge because of poor cell phone reception and inadequate police response. Access to public services such as roads, healthcare, and schools also faces significant gaps in provision and infrastructure.

Need for better coordination between departments

Simple solutions like installing streetlights and CCTV cameras, while ensuring access to essential services, could significantly enhance the sense of security for these communities. However, addressing these concerns requires better inter-departmental coordination and comprehensive planning and implementation of resettlement processes. Despite the formation of the District Habitat Committees to facilitate inter-departmental coordination, meetings have not been conducted since 2022, leading to delays in providing services.

Absence of baseline data on women and children

The lack of baseline information on women and children before resettlement resulted in inadequate infrastructure facilities related to nutrition, education, and health care. There is a pressing need for TNUHDB to conduct a baseline survey of all the resettlement sites in coordination with various departments to capture the socio-economic and demographic profiles of resettled families.

Challenges in accessing support services for the survivors of gender-based violence

safety audit resettlement site
A police station was set up near a resettlement site after the safety mapping process in January 2023. Pic: IRCDUC

Gender-based violence remains a pressing issue. Women in Ezhil Nagar, Kannagi Nagar, and Perumbakkam face significant problems in safety and living conditions. A primary concern is the reluctance of police to register complaints, leaving women and children vulnerable. For family counselling, women are referred to the unit that is over 30 kilometres away from the settlement. The absence of a policy to provide alternative housing for survivors, especially victims of child sexual abuse and domestic violence, when the accused is out on bail exacerbates their vulnerability.

In Old and New Perumbakkam, the lack of cell phone reception severely impacts women’s safety, especially during emergencies. The inability to connect to emergency numbers within many blocks forces women in distress to venture outside, exacerbating their vulnerability. To ensure access to support services for survivors of violence, the women have proposed setting up multi-purpose centres and de-addiction services in the settlement, similar to the Vanavil Maiyam, the gender resource centres set up by the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women (TNCDW). 

Safety concerns are pervasive, with inadequate lighting, insufficient police patrolling, and the breakdown of security measures such as CCTV cameras and streetlights. Drug peddling and vandalism add to the residents’ distress, necessitating stringent law enforcement and community engagement initiatives.

Read more: Domestic violence in resettlement areas: Community workers bear the burden

Planning of the site and quality of housing a concern

resettlement safety audit
Poor quality of drinking water in one of the resettlement sites in Chennai. Pic: IRCDUC

Housing quality in these resettlements is another major concern. Residents report damp walls, crumbling plaster, and poor electrical wiring, posing safety hazards. Regular block inspections and independent quality audits are essential to address these issues. Additionally, the rapid construction of new blocks violating the National Building Code has further reduced open spaces, leading to extreme heat and insufficient ventilation. This affects the health and comfort of residents.

Despite acknowledging the failure of constructing massive resettlement sites, the government continued to expand them, without providing services proportionate to the population. This has led to overpopulation and inadequate infrastructure.

Furthermore, these sites are situated near water bodies, which makes them prone to flooding and further endangers already struggling communities. The recurrent flooding exacerbates living conditions, often causing prolonged power outages, non-functional lifts, and water entering first-floor apartments. Women, especially those with physical challenges, encounter significant difficulties as they must climb multiple floors carrying pots of drinking water.

Major recommendations

  • In 2011, the Government of Tamil Nadu established a high-level committee chaired by the Chief Secretary to address the lack of basic infrastructure facilities in the resettlement sites. IRCDUC suggests reinitiating the high-level committee headed by a senior official to strengthen services in resettlement sites around Chennai.
  • Ensure that services such as schools, libraries, community halls, fair-price shops, and public health facilities are operationalised.
  • The district administrations of Chennai, Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram, and Thiruvallur should convene District Habitat Committee meetings every three months with a special agenda to address issues in resettlement sites.  
  • The Government of Tamil Nadu is urged to develop a ‘Special Programme’ aimed at enhancing the safety of women in resettlement sites, supported by adequate budgetary provisions. The Vanavil Maiyam, the gender resource centres set up by TNCDW can be set up in the resettlement sites.
  • The Department of Children Welfare and Special Services must facilitate the formation of Neighbourhood Child Protection Committees (NCPCs) in all resettlement sites to strengthen child protection systems.
  • The community urges the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) to halt further construction to preserve these open spaces in Perumbakkam.
  • Empower Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) to report safety concerns.

Policy recommendations

  • Families should not be resettled in sites located in remote, ecologically sensitive, and polluted areas far from their original homes. Such relocations disrupt livelihoods and family relations, often leading to increased instances of domestic violence.
  • The government of Tamil Nadu must avoid evictions during the academic year and prioritise housing allocations within existing urban reconstruction schemes.
  • Open the existing Resettlement and Rehabilitation Framework, 2023 of the Tamil Nadu Urban and Habitat Development, 2023 for public discussion and further strengthen the framework. IRCDUC strongly recommends that the Rehabilitation Framework be amended with a gender lens to protect the interests of women, children, and other vulnerable groups.
  • The government should standardise resettlement packages to address discriminatory practices and reduce inequalities as families benefiting from different resettlement packages are residing in the same sites.

By implementing these recommendations, the Government of Tamil Nadu can significantly improve the living conditions and safety of women, children, and other vulnerable groups in resettlement sites, fostering an environment where all individuals feel secure and can thrive.

Disclaimer: IRCDUC wishes to highlight that violence and crime are symptoms of increased vulnerability, which is the case with resettled communities. This report does not seek to criminalise communities in resettlement sites but attempts to find solutions to make infrastructure safer and equitable for all its residents.

The full report of the safety and infrastructure audit can be accessed here.

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