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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Chennai: At Govindasamy Nagar eviction site, residents complain of cop excesses, women change clothes inside auto-rickshaws

Residents of Govindasamy Nagar also said that when they asked the authorities to wait until their children finish their Board exams, specific families were given only three days’ additional time to stay.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: May 13, 2022 1:14:37 pm
Residents of Govindasamy Nagar also said that when they asked the authorities to wait until their children finish their Board exams, specific families were given only three days’ additional time to stay. (Express/Gokul Subramanian)

More than 100 families near the Buckingham Canal in Raja Annamalai Puram of Chennai are panicking in fear. They have already lost one of their neighbours who set himself on fire in an attempt to stop the state government’s encroachment eviction drive.

Meanwhile, women alongside their children are squatting on the Elango Street in Govindasamy Nagar with their belongings by their sides. They are made to witness a mountain of debris that was once their homes where they shared all the happy memories.

According to the affidavit filed by the Government of Tamil Nadu in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it was noted that all the 259 tenements have been kept ready for occupation with all the basic amenities like electricity, water, etc. (Express/Gokul Subramanian)

On Tuesday, hundreds of police personnel were deployed on both sides of the Govindasamy Nagar to avert any law and order issue as the body of Kanniah, who set himself on fire, was kept outside his house for the public and political leaders to pay homage.

Ever since the eviction drive began in the area on April 29, when officials from the Water Resource Department (WRD) and Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board (TNUHDB) with the support of the police razed down the buildings, the residents claim they barely had anything or slept peacefully.

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Activists said that the officials failed to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the government a month ago to handle the eviction in a dignified manner.

Geetha (45), a homemaker, who has been with her family for over four decades, says the officials never really cared to explain to them why they wanted to demolish their houses.

“They simply said they have a court order to demolish the houses. We don’t know what order, who filed a case, etc. We asked them to show the details but that was of no use as they began bringing in bulldozers to begin the work. We were all given tokens of our alternate residences and told to move there immediately. We begged them to give us some time saying that our kids are having their public exams but they were in no mood to pay heed to our requests. They broke open our locked houses and threw the items on the road. I was pleading with them by clinging to their feet to leave my house but they didn’t do that,” she said.

When asked about the Chief Minister’s assurance to provide them accommodation in Mandaveli and Mylapore, Geetha says they cannot imagine going to a new place after having stayed on this land and breathed the air here all through her life.

“We don’t want more money or anything, we just want the government to let us live in peace here. I was born here, I was raised here and I want to die here,” she added.

On Tuesday, hundreds of police personnel were deployed on both sides of the Govindasamy Nagar to avert any law and order issue as the body of Kanniah, who set himself on fire, was kept outside his house for the public and political leaders to pay homage. (Express/Gokul Subramanian)

Geetha says children of the area are traumatised by the eviction drive. She says leaders speak about raising the next generation and bringing them forward in society but these kinds of incidents push them back to the dark past.

“They (students) just started to go back to school after the pandemic and now we are pushed into this situation where we are living in fear every minute. Our future is doomed,” she said.

R Geetha of Pen Urimai Iyakkam (Women’s Rights Movement) which had filed the Impleadment in the Supreme Court, says the place are close to 50 feet away from the Buckingham Canal yet the authorities had been demolishing the buildings for the past 10 days and yet there has been no case or action against the buildings that are located on the other side which are hardly 20 feet away from the canal.

“It’s all because of one individual called Rajiv Rai who has a big setup of apartments. For him, to hike the price of the flats, he wants a second access road and he doesn’t want these people to be here. So that’s the reason behind all the dramas. He had initially filed a case for the second access road and then changed it into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) saying that these people have encroached on a water resource. He wanted them to be shifted to an alternate location,” she said.

Geetha added that before the Chief Minister’s announcement in the state Assembly Monday, the residents were given accommodation far away in places like Navalur, Perumbakkam, Ezhil Nagar and Kannagi Nagar.

“The alternate accommodation given by the officials was 40-50 kilometre away from this area. Majority of the women and men here are daily wage labourers, what will they do if they are told to go that far? We would say they have a land right, they have been here for sixty years. They are not blocking the water path, they are not disturbing anyone. The government should render some justice to them,” she said.

Chitra (42), a daily-wage labourer, who lost her husband just five months ago, says she has been brought to the streets and her future looks bleak. (Express/Gokul Subramanian)

According to the affidavit filed by the Government of Tamil Nadu in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it was noted that all the 259 tenements have been kept ready for occupation with all the basic amenities like electricity, water, etc.

However, the residents said those who had shifted to Perumbakkam have come back as there are no basic facilities, including electricity. Majority of them said that they have been provided houses on the seventh floor and it is impossible for elders and others with ailments to climb up and down.

Prashanth (28), who does a drinking water supply business, says the police manhandled the residents and didn’t spare anyone, including women.

“On Sunday (May 8), they started to demolish the front portion on the street and suddenly started to demolish the houses located on the middle portion as well. When (VG) Kanniah (60) set himself on fire, none of the police personnel came forward to save him. We were the ones who ran to douse the fire. The officials who were standing there just told us to put him on the other side and continued to demolish the buildings. They valued us less than the slippers they wear. If they had cared and taken him to a hospital immediately, he would have been alive today. He sacrificed his life for the people of this area,” he said.

He added that the government has provided all of them with identity cards, including Aadhaar and voter cards and they had been regularly paying house taxes and electricity bills. “If we have encroached the area, as claimed by the officials, why would the government ask us to pay all these bills?” he asked.

Another resident, Usha, said when she pleaded with the authorities to spare their houses from demolishing, saying that her children are writing their board examinations, the authorities asked the children to show up their hall tickets and after confirming that they are writing their Class X and XII examinations, they marked their houses but told the residents that they can stay only for three days.

“The exam takes place over a month, how can we just stay here for three days? Can our children travel from that far to their schools here to write the exams?” she asked.

She added that the authorities didn’t have any formal letter or any government material to show to the people before demolishing their houses.

“They didn’t care to carry any piece of authorisation letter. They had just a rough note which had the names and numbers of the residents next to them. They just put a mark to each name after demolishing one house after the other,” she said.

Chitra (42), a daily-wage labourer, who lost her husband just five months ago, says she has been brought to the streets and her future looks bleak. “My daughter is in her second year. For the past one week, she hasn’t gone to college. We, ladies, didn’t have a place to take a bath. We changed our dress inside the auto-rickshaws. How many days can I stay at a relative’s house with grown-up children? The situation is terrible. How can I leave my daughter alone in an unknown place and go to work? We don’t know who is residing above and below us in that new accommodation which the government is planning to provide us. The police ill-treated us and mocked our situation. When I asked a police officer to provide me an accommodation in Padappai rather than in Perumbakkam, he replied saying that he can show me “Padayappa” (a Tamil film) but cannot give me a house in Padappai. All his colleagues were laughing at this joke. What wrong did we do to face this humiliation?” she asked.

However, a senior official deployed to monitor the eviction drive denied any sort of police high-handedness and abuse. “We never ill-treated them; the buildings were demolished as per the court orders. The notices were stuck before and they were told to leave but they didn’t. The residents tried to stop the process hence we moved them, we never pushed or used offensive words as it has been claimed,” he said.

The Supreme Court Tuesday said the relief claimed in the application is another feeble attempt to stall the entire process which the authorities ought to have completed long back. The court also said that the apprehension of the applicants that alternative premises may not be suitable is misplaced.

“The allotment of premises in Perumbakkam, Kannagi Nagar, Ezhil Nagar and Navalur, has been made to other occupants as well and they have accepted the same without any demur. The applicants are free to avail of such premises, as offered to them. In case of any deficiency thereat, that may be pointed out to the concerned Collector or the Chief Executive Officer/Commissioner of the local body,” the court observed. The apex court will hear the case again on July 12.

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