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NALLUR A BRUTAL REALITY

By Jinu Abraham

BACKGROUND OF THE AREA: Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is India's fourth largest metropolitan city. With an estimated population of 6.96 million (2006), the 368-year-old city is the 34th largest metropolitan area in the world. More than 26 percent of its population lives in slums. Porur is a small township that lies in the extended region of Chennai city. It is primarily one of the residential areas of Chennai Metropolitan Area. The Porur Lake, which is situated in Porur, is one of the primary water resources for people residing in Chennai. Porur Lake Area slum is on the lake, which lies on the border between Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. This slum area is divided into Ambedkar Nagar, West Ambedkar Nagar, Samathuva Nagar (part of Thiruvallur District) Selvaganapathy Nagar, Anna Nagar (part of Kancheepuram District). 23RD - 25TH NOVEMBER 2006: Nearly 5000 people stood on the edges of Porur Lake and watched in awe as the Kancheepuram Collectorate and Public Works Department launched a massive eviction drive. Their houses and all that they held dear was demolished piece by piece by hired earth removers and tracked excavators. The people who were living in the area were forcefully evicted without any prior notification or announcement. It was particularly shocking for these people that such a thing could happen when all government officials had promised them full facilities and when the area had already been provided with a full electricity supply, a sub post office, and public call offices. Even prayers halls and commercial establishments that had been established on the Banks of Porur Lake for decades now were brutally pulled down. The act was so sudden that people had no time to remove their valuables from their houses, and lost all the household materials which they had accumulated over many years. Some people were not even able to take their childrens certificates. During the drive a three-year-old girl fell into the water and died, and two people died of heart attacks. All this action comes from nowhere else but the JNNURM (JawaharLal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) which promises to beautify our cities and make it liveable. Rejuvenation of the Porur Lake seems to be the agenda of the Water Resources Department which had drawn up for

the Lake an elaborate plan. Strengthening the bund, demarcating the boundary and widening lakes are some of the plans drawn up. Once the improvement works are completed, they expect the lake to have a storage capacity of 60 million cubic feet of water thus boosting the water supply to the city. BACKGROUND OF THE EVICTEES: These families have been settled around this lake for over fifteen years. According to law they are illegal encroachers. These so-called encroachments usually follow a familiar pattern. First, land grabbers, in connivance with political parties, encourage landless people to "book" their plots of choice after a nominal payment. Once there are enough "bookings," the construction of thatched huts begins with the blessings of lower level staff in the Revenue department. `No Objection Certificates' are obtained in order to apply for necessary amenities. Local bodies grant their approval for the formation of new residential localities, despite being fully aware of the violations. Revenue officials issue a 'B' memo, which is merely a receipt for the sum received from encroachers as a fine for illegally occupying government property. Using the ignorance of most dwellers in such places, land grabbers convince people that such memos are indicators of ownership of land. According to the law, the Porur Lake area slums are illegal encroachments, as the state government imposed a total ban on any form of construction on any water resource in 2002. There is no specific court order against the Porur Lake area slums, but many court orders support eviction. The Government simply claims that court orders back the removal of encroachments anywhere in the state. The bulldozing began after the Supreme Court upheld the Madras High Court's order to remove 32,000 illegal and unauthorized constructions in the city. (There is no detail whether the Porur Lake area slums are included in the 32,000 unauthorized constructions in Chennai.) Whats surprising is that these inhuman acts are not illegal. The Tank Protection Act of 2007 permits removal of encroachments from water bodies. Hence, the drive even in its devilish form is absolutely legitimate. HOMELESSNESS The residents evicted from Porur Lake were shifted to yet another lake area of Nallur village, located a few km away from Kunrathur and Kudapakkam near Poonamallee. They charged that the places provided to them for alternative housing failed to address their basic needs such as healthcare, transport and education. The Porur Lake Evictees Welfare

Association also claims that of the 12,000 families evicted only 5,000 have been allotted housing plots in Kudapakkam and Nallur villages. They put us here like dust, was the comment of one evictee. Each family that has been allotted a housing plot gets one cent for land to set up their dwellings, hardly enough to even move freely around. They also received Rs. 2000 from the Kancheepuram Collector, Pradeep Yadav to set up their dwellings. Some of displaced families said they required at least three cents of land to set up comfortable homes given the size of their families which in most cases were extended. Most families now live in thatched houses made of dried leaves, building which costs about Rs. 10,000. A cement house in the same area costs Rs. 16,000; a rarity to find. EDUCATION The childrens education has suffered irreplaceably since several have not been attending school regularly for a year due to erratic bus services. Most children attending school travel to far off places in Porur and Sumangalam, accessible only if buses ply. There are no schools in the area and the residents dont think they will even see one here. There do exist two anganwaadis which function on the bare minimum. A local Church provides elder children with the much required tuition facilities in a makeshift home; even then they have to wait for electricity as the house is normally shrouded in darkness. ELECTRICITY The area has electricity only during the evenings. People wait till 6pm to see the bulbs oddly hanging in their make-shift houses light up and at sharp 8am the electricity is switched off. WATER Almost as an afterthought water is supplied to these areas for about 2 hours every day. The basic drinking, washing and other basic needs are to be filled in these two hours. Women of the area claim that violent fights often break out in the rush to get water. Due to the water crunch many children and youth have been going to a nearby pond to bathe. Lack of security measures have ensured that lot of children drown in the pond. SANITATION There exist no sanitation facilities in the area. Open drains run alongside houses even as dogs and children play on its banks. People use the banks of a near by lake to relive themselves. TRANSPORT

Bus services to the area are restricted to early mornings and late evenings. At other times one has to wait at the mercy of a stray Share Auto. The researchers themselves on the way back had to hitch-hike from an on-going truck to reach back to the bus stand, something which could pose a huge risk normally. HEALTH There exists no Public Health Centres in Nallur and the residents have to travel long distances to reach a nearby Centre which is always crowded to the brink with patients. Long queues and even longer waits are normal for the sick to experience. The men here are ardent alcoholics and the adding tensions and stress only add fuel to the fire. LIVELIHOOD The residents are mainly casual labourers working mostly in export shoe companies and construction industries and for them, their occupation was severely affected as they were asked to move away to a place far off from their workplace. Many people have been forced to sell their basic belongings just to survive from day to day. Krishnakumari was one of the earlier migrants in her area comments, Now, we have to travel at least 30 km in the morning. It is not just the distance or its cost that affects us, but to get to the labour market in the morning, we have to leave very early. These days, we have stopped going as there is no work. We are waiting for some NREG work to come by. SECURITY Fire accidents are common here and they damaged the thatched huts, which served as temporary shelters. Many residents claim that the fires are no coincidence but a deliberate attempt to force the residents out of their homes. Street lights are concepts from another century here. People living in this area are forever it seems followed by darkness. Snakes are common occurrences in the area as people live in fear of their lives. THE GOVERNMENT STAND: Kancheepuram Collector, Pradeep Yadav said on 28th November 2008 during the demolition drive that basic infrastructure would be provided at the new site. A statement that is yet to come true. He also promised fresh family cards to the displaced families within a week to enable them to draw rations from Nallur and new bus services to the colony to connect Kundrathur and Porur. NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW VIOLATIONS: The demolition in Porur lake area is a blatant violation of the human right to adequate housing. These forced evictions without adequate rehabilitation

violate the affected peoples fundamental right to life and livelihood as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Reaffirming the principle of indivisibility of all human rights, the fundamental right to life encompasses the right to live with human dignity. Furthermore, Article 14 of the Constitution of India guarantees equal protection under law. The demolition also contradicts the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments Common Minimum Programme (CMP), proposed in May 2004. The CMP specifically states: Forced eviction and demolition of slums will be stopped and, while undertaking urban renewal, care will be taken to see that the urban and semi-urban poor are provided housing near their place of occupation. Besides contradicting the National government's Common Minimum Programme, the actions against the people of Porur lake area constitute a violation of their basic human rights to life, security, health, work, and adequate housing; i.e., the right of all women, men and children to gain and sustain a secure place to live in peace and dignity. The authorities have especially violated peoples entitlements to security of tenure and freedom from forced evictions; access to and benefit from public goods and services; information, capacity and capacity building; participation and self-expression; rights to resettlement and adequate compensation for violations and losses; and physical security and privacy. All are elements of the human right to adequate housing as recognized in international law.