Amidst heavy downpour, Chennai slum dwellers struggle without a roof over their heads

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CHENNAI: It was a night of horrors on Monday for the 150-odd families who stay in makeshift tents made from political banners and advertisement sheets in Gandhi Nagar.

A large part of the Gandhi Nagar slums along with those in neighbouring Sathyavani Muthu Nagar was razed under the Cooum river eco restoration project. Around 2000 families from these settlements, one of the city's largest slum habitations, were shifted to Perumbakkam. However, these 150 families, who had requested houses in the TNSCB tenements in Kargil Nagar in Thiruvottiyur, remain here, having no money to find rental accommodations.

As it poured in the city, the children watched as their tent collapsed again and again, leaving them running for cover with their families. After their houses were razed last month, the residents here have been staying in these tents, unwilling to go to Perumbakkam where the rest of the families have been shifted.

(Photo | R Satish Babu, EPS)

"Once we go there, we will lose whatever livelihood we have built for ourselves here. After around 40 years of staying here, for the first time, our children are going to convent schools, wearing ties and shoes. We cannot afford to send them to these schools if we go there," said R Pandian, who along with the rest of the men in the area, sat guard for the whole of Monday night as it rained, to make sure the children and women slept without worrying.

Most men in the locality work as loadmen in the bazaars in Parrys which is only around two kilometres away, making an average of Rs 300 a day.

"Work gets over at around 9-10 pm and they would have to travel from Parrys to Perumbakkam after that, if at all there are buses at that time. And then they have to come back the next morning at 7 am. One thing is the transportation cost involved but the more important thing is that if they come late in the mornings, the shop owners will find someone else to load and unload. They won't have work for the day," said Pandian.

On Monday night, Logaveeran M (24) rummaged for bricks and stones nearby to make a pedestal on which his parents could lay the cot and sleep.

"You can't sleep on the floor because water started flowing into the tents. Sleeping on cots itself wasn't safe. We left our children with the people in the neighbouring settlement (on defence land) so they can be safe for the night," he said.

When contacted, a PWD official said that all eligible families in the area have already been given allotments to houses in Perumbakkam.

"Sometimes, people from the neighbouring slum settlements set up tents here and claim to be left out demanding houses. They are not genuine cases. Those who had genuinely resided here have all been given allotments and shifted to Perumbakkam," the official said.

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