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55,000 poor Chennai families to be evicted sans any resettlement plan, online petition floated to stop "disaster"

By Our Representative
Even as more than 400 families have already been evicted, an estimated 55,000 families are facing the danger of being evicted in the name of disaster management and restoration of water bodies in Chennai. Being resettled about 30 km away, this is being done allegedly under the shadow of the Madras High Court’s interim order, which has directed the Tamil Nadu government to take “expeditious steps for early removal of encroachments."
Calling this as violating national and international human rights laws, the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM), which is the apex body of tens of people's organizations across India, has said the 400 families who were evicted from the MSP Nagar in Maduravoyal, while a few were living along the banks of the Cooum River at Aminjikarai. They were on September 9 and 15.
"The government is biased towards the low-income settlements and homes of the urban poor along the Couum River, which are the only ones perceived as encroachers, and not the other commercial establishments and residential buildings of other income groups", says NAPM.
NAPM says, evictions have been taking place "without conducting Social Impact Assessment", and the uprooted families are being resettling evicted families to a site which is up to 30 km away "from their current residential site", adding, these have ben taking place "without prior legal notice and that too in mid-academic year, with no information being given to the people regarding resettlement packages."
Pointing out that a few of them have "still not received any alternative housing", NAPM says, "There have been no thoughts by the government on the impact of these evictions on the livelihood of these families", adding, "In the guise of providing ‘safe houses,’ these families are being provided houses in low-lying areas, marshland, and near water bodies that are also vulnerable to floods."
Meanwhile, two housing rights organizations -- Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), New Delhi, and Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), Chennai -- have floated an online petition to state chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, saying that the government has "only applied the court’s order to low-income settlements and homes of the urban poor along the Couum River, not to other commercial establishments that could also be considered ‘encroachments’."
Pointing out that the evictions have come as a "surprise for residents, as they had not been given any official notice", the petition says, "They had been verbally informed to move out of their homes on Tuesday, September 13; the demolition took place on Thursday, September 15, in the morning at 7 a.m."
"The eviction drive did not touch the mall in Aminjikarai, but has rendered low-income families living along the river homeless. This reveals the arbitrary nature of implementing the court order and discriminating against the urban poor", the petition says.
"Furthermore, the residents were informed that they would be shifted to the resettlement site at Gudapakkam. However, on the day of the eviction, the officials informed the affected persons that they were being shifted to Perumbakkam. This came as a rude shock to the families", it adds.
The petition further accuses the authorities of not preparing any Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) to "mitigate identified adverse impacts", even as failing to take into account the fact that "the poor and marginalized are being pushed to the fringes of the city".
Underlining that the evictions could result in "an increased school drop-out rate and loss of employment/livelihoods of affected persons", the petition demands, the authorities should "stop all forced evictions in Chennai", even as "initiating a participatory human rights-based process to develop solutions aimed at protecting the rights of all residents, including their right to disaster protection."

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