CHENNAI: Not too long ago, Sathyavani Muthu Nagar was one of the city’s largest slums, bustling with families and their kids. Now, all that remains is uncleared debris of a thousand houses demolished by officials, and around 350 families who live amid it.
In December last year, officials from various departments including the PWD, began evicting the families here under the Cooum river eco-restoration project. Officials continued demolition despite public resistance and a long break due to the lockdown.
So far, they have relocated 1,750 families from here to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board tenments in Perumbakkam. However, the remaining 350 families are living a life of uncertainty. After a brief eviction drive that resumed in September resettled around 80 families, the process has come to a halt. The children here study and play amid the debris of houses once occupied by their friends and classmates.
Residents have cleared a small path through the debris for walking. Also, worryingly, with a majority of families relocated, these families are now cut off from basic facilities such as street lights and water supply. "Street lights are working only in a small part of the slum. We, for instance, haven’t had street lights ever since the rest of the families were relocated," said Sathyaraj, a resident.
The families said they walk nearly half a kilometre to fetch water from a public tap as taps closest to them stopped working after the demolition. "We have not received allotments to Perumbakkam yet. We only ask that we are provided houses in the newly-constructed blocks and not the old blocks where we heard the structure is weak and there might be water seepage in the walls," said Sangeetha, another resident.
When contacted, officials said that they are unable to proceed with the resettlement due to the demands put forth by the residents. "We tried to accommodate as many people as possible in the newer blocks but now we are unable to accommodate them in the houses they want specifically. Further, the families here are also at an increased risk of flooding since the upstream of the Cooum river has been widened," said officials.