CHENNAI: The December floods are a distant memory for thousands of city residents who zip past the Saidapet bridge every day. But for four families living on the banks of the Adyar River near the bridge, life hasn’t changed much. With their houses demolished, partly by the floods and partly by government officials who promised them new houses, they still live in an open hall near the slum. Officials say they there is little they can do to allot them houses in areas like Kannagi Nagar since their ration cards were washed away.
As she cooks the day’s meal in the open mandapam, Varadhammal says tearfully, “We have been living here for three months. Our house was damaged by the flood and our ration cards and Voter IDs were washed away. I have my Aadhaar card, but the officials insist on producing a ration card. During the survey they also called me, took photos and even noted down my name. But I still live here with two teenage daughters and two sons,” she says.
Her first concern is that her daughters sleep in an open space every night without even the safety that a door of a thatched hut would provide. “Even while sleeping, I have to remain alert as men move around in the area,” says Varadhammal’s 14-year-old daughter Gayathri.
Family members say the officials promised to allot them flats at Kannagi Nagar while the remains of their house was being demolished. Even the photos of them posing with slates bearing their details were taken after the floods.
“The corporation officers said we would be allotted houses within six months. They also say we must not stay in this mandapam. But some of us don’t have any other place to go. We don’t have relatives or enough money to get a new house,” says Renukha.
“Even before houses were allotted and photos taken, officers came to demolish the remaining two rooms of my house. I was standing inside, but they demolished the other room with our food and belongings inside,” says Vanitha, of another family residing at the mandapam.
These families were in for a rude shock when they heard that a bulldozer has been stationed nearby to demolish the mandapam as well.
“We were instructed to demolish the mandapam. Some people here have already been allotted houses. Others don’t have any ID proof. Our superiors think people might encroach the area if we don’t demolish it. If they have ID proof, we will allot them houses,” says a Public Works Department official.
“I lost my ration card during the floods. But I have my Aaadhar card and my name is on the voters’ list. We don’t even go out to work, since the officials said we must be present when they come to check,” says Varadhammal. “A few corporation officials have told us that we will be allotted flats after the elections. But till then, how can my two teenage daughters sleep here?”