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Chennai: As slum-dwellers oppose eviction drive, Pa. Ranjith, Kamal Haasan speak up in support

The Sathyavani Muthu Nagar slum is located on the banks of Cooum river. On Wednesday, protesting residents had entered the river and stayed in the neck-deep sewage water for hours after officials demolished a few houses.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai | Updated: December 11, 2020 9:27:03 am
Director Pa. Ranjith and Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam

Day after residents of Sathyavani Muthu Nagar slum in Chennai stood neck-deep in sewage water for hours to oppose an eviction drive, the protest continued on Thursday, with political parties CPI(M), Makkal Needhi Maiam and VCK, and filmmaker Pa. Ranjith speaking out in support of the slum dwellers.

The Sathyavani Muthu Nagar slum is located on the banks of Cooum river near Island Ground in Chennai. The residents were asked to evacuate in December last year for the Cooum river restoration project. While some families moved out, many stayed put.

On Wednesday, when public welfare department staff, Chennai Municipal Corporation officials and the police reached the area and asked residents to move out, they refused to budge. The officials bulldozed several houses in and warned people of legal action. The residents then went on a hunger strike, entered the Cooum river, and stayed in the neck-deep water for hours, until the authorities halted the eviction drive and left. The video of close to a dozen men and women standing in the sewage water was circulated across social media.

On Thursday, CPI(M) and VCK members and other Dalit activists joined the residents’ protest, demanding that the government withdraw the eviction order.

Tamil film director and activist Pa. Ranjith visited Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam Thursday and requested him to consider the slum-dwellers’ plea.

Within a few hours, however, Ranjith took to Twitter to slam Pannerselvam, alleging that he promised to consider the request but has now ordered the eviction to go ahead. “Wake up Chennai slum residents, this government is against us,” he tweeted.

Actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam leader Kamal Haasan also took to Twitter and questioned the government, asking if “evicting the native people out of the city is a welfare scheme”.

Sathyavani Muthu Nagar was one of the city’s largest slums, holding more than 2,000 families. Following the eviction notice by the government authorities last year, almost 70 per cent of the families moved to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board Tenaments in Perumbakkam, 30 km from the heart of the city. The other families stayed put, claiming their livelihood and the education of their children would be affected if they moved to the faraway place.

The eviction process had to be halted last December in the face of resident’s protests and the intervention of parties like the CPI(M) and the VCK.

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