CHENNAI: It was a bolt from the blue for the 43 families residing at J J Nagar, near the Nandambakkam Canal, who were already resigned to the fact that they would be relocated to Thirumazhisai, after discussions progressed for a $400 million World Bank funded project to be built over their previous homes.
But on February 4, their hopes of even getting a shelter in Thirumazhisai were shattered, as they were instead moved to Perumbakkam under a different scheme.
“The officials promised us that we will be shifted to Thirumazhisai. But now they have shifted us to Perumbakkam. We agreed to the former as there were livelihood options. In Perumbakkam, we will not have any,” said an affected family.
The Independent Resource Center for Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), whose recommendations were agreed to by the World Bank and Chennai Corporation to resettle the families in Thirumazhisai, has slammed the Corporation officials for failing to safeguard the rights of the families.
The negotiations had initially focused on relocating the residents, who had lived in the slum for more than 30 years, to pave the way for the “Integrated Storm Water Drainage Project for the Expanded Areas of Corporation of Chennai.”
The project is oriented towards resolving water-logging and flooding issues in the city.
“Chennai Corporation wanted them to be shifted to Ezhil Nagar, which the families opposed. After discussion, it was agreed that they would be shifted to Thirumazhisai under the World Bank-funded project,” said independent researcher Vanessa Peter.
What is troubling, however, is that “despite months of negotiations and meetings with decision makers, families in JJ Nagar faced the exact situation they feared and worked so hard to prevent,” states a fact-finding report of the IRCDUC.
After pleading and protesting with the authorities for hours, all 43 families eventually gave in and moved to the State-approved resettlement site, abandoning their homes and possessions. It is unclear if they will receive any compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. They had to, until the end of the day on Friday, collect their belongings before the bulldozers moved in, the report went on to state.
The difficulties of the shift in resettlement sites is significant, as children in the families relocated to Perumbakkam have to travel for over an hour and a half to reach their schools in Manapakkam.
“The affected families are eligible for a different set of relief and rehabilitation packages. The 43 families now can’t avail of it. Why has the World Bank failed to safeguard their rights, despite informing them in advance?” questioned Vanessa.
Official sources in Chennai Corporation said they would look into the allegations.