CHENNAI: With eviction of slum dwellers set to resume as they still reel from the effects of the lockdown, State authorities continue to have a tough time clearing commercial establishments, some of them large-scale, for restoring water bodies.
According to official estimates, there are at least 102 shops and commercial complexes identified as being in the Cooum river’s right of way, mostly concentrated on the stretch from the Koyambedu bridge to NSK Nagar. Among them, some, like a multi-storeyed hotel at Pallavan Nagar, Koyambedu, that has allegedly encroached 40 feet into the river, continue to reap commercial benefits. This hotel moved court against the eviction and the case has dragged on for about 11 years, said an official.
“Most of the larger establishments move court and the smaller shops surrounding them refuse to be shifted,” said an official on condition of anonymity. A wedding hall in Arumbakkam is also among the identified establishments continuing to function in a prime area even as families in the neighbourhood have been packed off to locations outside the city limits.
“In all these cases (commercial establishments), we have already issued notices. We are aware that restoration of water bodies will only be completed after the commercial establishments are removed but the ongoing cases should come to a logical end,” the official said.
In Thideer Nagar, as many as 603 houses were taken down under the Cooum restoration plan despite resistance from residents to evictions in the middle of the academic year. They were evicted in November 2017 to Perumbakkam.
What these 600 families could not achieve was done by merely seven shops which continue to do business even today, despite being offered alternative accommodation at Singaperumalkoil. So far, over 12,000 families along the Cooum have been evicted.
According to a recent report from the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), in 20 years (from 2000 to 2020), a total of 61,968 families have been evicted. Of these evictions, 30 per cent were carried out between the end of 2015 and 2020.
Of these, the report states that 96 per cent were evicted for restoration of water bodies, 88 per cent were evicted in the middle of the academic year, 99 per cent did not receive legal notices, and 97 per cent were evicted without consultation.
“These evictions are in violation of the United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement as they were conducted without following the due process,” said Vanessa Peter, founder, IRCDUC.