CHENNAI: Years of distrust in the State Government machinery and fear of loss of livelihood left hundreds of homeless families in the city choosing to face the cyclone Nivar from where they are - the streets.
A large section of homeless families are concentrated in areas like Wall Tax road, Mannady in George Town, Parrys and parts of Royapuram where they sell fruits, vegetables, flowers or snacks for their livelihood.
Having already witnessed large scale evictions in the area, most recently in Sathya Vani Muthu Nagar in Park Town, the families here say that if they agree to move to the City Corporation relief camps, they may not be allowed to return to the spaces on the streets where they have lived and done business on for many years. Even just hours before the cyclone made the landfall, the families said they were not contacted or engaged in discussion by corporation staff.
Many of these families had earlier approached several forums including the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, seeking housing in the TNSCB tenements in Moolakothalam. However, they have not received any clear response so far.
This being the case, the families here believe that once they move, even temporarily, they will be evicted and resettled to faraway places like Perumbakkam.
“We are planning to borrow tricycles and sit together in groups with a tarpaulin sheet tied above,” said a resident of Ratan Bazar where there are around 80 families residing along the roadsides. There are around 65 children here.
“We have contacted several government authorities asking for houses in Moolakothalam. They did not respond and now if they come asking us to move to relief camps, we are scared we will be relocated to Perumbakkam directly from there and won’t be able to do business here,” she added.
Apart from them, there are around 50 families at the Evening Bazar and around 30 families in the bus depot where they do their respective businesses.
Scenes reported from the TNSCB tenements in Perumbakkam also add to their fear. Several houses began leaking in Perumbakkam after the heavy rains on Tuesday and Wednesday. Residents of block 62 said that they had to move senior citizens to nearby houses after water began to seep through their ceilings and wetting the floor and bed.
Vanessa Peter, policy research, IRCDUC said, “None of the disaster management plans of the State or urban local bodies acknowledge the vulnerability of the homeless. There needs to be specific disaster response plans for the urban homeless. The State Government should think beyond shelters and ensure access to permanent houses for the homeless. ”
While the city corporation has had more success in effectively moving homeless individuals to relief camps ahead of the cyclone, they are yet to convince whole settlements like these where homeless people reside in numbers, to shift.
“In areas where there is reluctance, we are convincing them. We will try to convince and move these residents too before the end of the day,” said a corporation official.
So far, the city corporation has moved a total of 45 homeless individuals in the last two days alone from areas like Koyambedu, Marina beach and Central station to relief camps and shelters.