CHENNAI: In a questionable move, the State housing board has chosen a site within the special and hazardous zone in Ernavur to build houses for 7,000 urban poor and slum dwellers. According to the proposal, flats for the poor and slum dwellers will be built at a cost of Rs 680 crore under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) in the area, which has several major industries. The 27.35 acres of land on the eastern side of Thiruvottiyur High Road is right opposite the Ennore Thermal Power Station, just behind the railway line and only 6 km from the busy Ennore Port.
This area, where there is a large concentration of industries, was found to be highly polluted and could pose a health risk to residents in a recent study by an environment organisation. Also, being in the area marked as the hazardous and industrial zone as per Regulation 18 of the Second Master Plan for Chennai, the area would be preferred by such industries that are keen to set up a unit in the State.
Despite these factors, this area, considered to be toxic by environmentalists, has obtained the nod from the consultant appointed by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB), sources said. Citing the existence of habitations, the project has been given the clearance.
However, the Madras High Court-appointed Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s (CMDA) Monitoring Committee member MG Deivasahayam, environment activist Nityanand Jayaraman and Vanessa Peter, activist for housing of the poor and independent researcher, criticised the move to accommodate the poor in such a zone. “One cannot just implement the project. How can a hazardous zone be reclassified into the mixed residential zone? If it comes before the Monitoring Committee, we won’t clear it,” Deivasahayam said.
“It is a case of environmental racism. Would you move rich people into such a place where hazardous industries are located?” questioned Jayaraman, noting that pollution levels in Ennore were not within the required parameters.
Such resettlement projects expose the reality that the State does not have a housing policy, Vanessa pointed out. “Currently, they are framing one with the help of the German agency for international cooperation (GIZ). But it was a closed-door participation where local NGOs and people were not involved. How can you frame a policy without the involvement of locals,” she said.
However, a top TNHB official defended the project, stating that there were habitations in and around the area. “The project will be implemented only after taking into consideration each and every aspect and concern,” the official told Express.
The Centre will grant Rs 1.5 lakh per flat, while 20% of the cost will be borne by beneficiaries and Rs 173 crore will be availed using special transferable development rights. A total of Rs 265 crore will come as gap funding from the State government.
1. The State will build nearly 7,000 flats for the economically weaker section on 27 acres of land in Ernavur
2. As per Regulation 18 of the Second Master Plan, the entire land falls in the special and hazardous zone
3. Each house will have a plinth area of 400 square feet for the homeless
4. The total cost of the project is D676.61 crore
5. TN is planning to raise funds by giving special Transferable Development Rights worth D173 crore for the project
6. 20% of the scheme’s costs has to be borne by beneficiaries