Skip to main content

'Forced' eviction of Chennai slum dwellers: NAPM calls for national moratorium

Counterview Desk 
India’s civil society network, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), condemning the “forced evictions” in Sathyavani Muthu Nagar and Thangavel Street, Chennai in the midst of the pandemic”, has asked the Government of India to ensure a “nationwide moratorium on evictions at least until June 2021”, insisting, the “Centre and State Governments must uphold the right to life, livelihoods and housing with dignity of the urban working class.”
In a statement, NAPM said, "It is commonplace knowledge that eviction of people living slums like SM Nagar or Thangavelu Street are not isolated incidents, but part of the systemic apathy, furthered by neo-liberal notions and actions of ‘development’ championed by the Central government and several state governments."

Text:

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is deeply disturbed and outraged at the continuing evictions of working people from their houses in multiple localities in Chennai, including at Sathyavani Muthu Nagar and Thangavel Street. Such apathetic eviction drives, especially in the midst of a pandemic, that only seem to prey on the historically oppressed and the marginalized communities, reveal the casteist and elitist leanings of the state machinery, in the garb of ‘development’ and ‘city planning’.
Evictions at Sathyavani Muthu Nagar:
We are appalled that municipal authorities have demolished around 40 houses in Sathyavani Muthu Nagar (SM Nagar), a few weeks back, leaving many families homeless. SM Nagar is one of the largest slums in the country where around 2,100 families lived. However, in the last two years, close to 80 per cent of the families have been evicted for ‘river restoration’ projects (Omjasvin, December 2020).
Exactly in the winter of last year (December 2019), officials from various departments including the Chennai police, slum clearance authorities and the state public works department forcibly evicted “around 3500 settlements along the Cooum river near Triplicane” under the Cooum river eco-restoration project. The move left the residents including school-going children homeless overnight, sparking protests among the residents (Jayarajan, December 2019; Viswanathan, November 2020). However, authorities continued the demolition process despite protests. NAPM salutes the resistance of many of the residents who have been struggling against these arbitrary evictions, including those who stayed neck-deep inside the sewage-laden water, without any food or water.
Evictions at Thangavel Street:
In a more recent development, on December 28, 2020 the Chennai Corporation authorities along with the police visited Thangavel Street, T Nagar and threatened the 77 families living there with eviction. After hours of protesting, the people requested time till the end of January 2021 to move. Indifferent to their plight, the authorities proceeded to demolish the houses of 21 families and now are continuing with their coercion by depriving the people off necessities like electricity.
The 77 Dalit families have been residents of this area for over 50 years. Despite an order passed by the Government of Tamil Nadu that Housing Pattas can be issued for families that have been residing on Government Poramboke land for a period of 5 years, these families, who have lived here for over 50 years, have not received any Patta.
Some major concerns due to the arbitrary evictions are:

Impact on livelihood:

  • Many of the residents are workers in the unorganised sector, daily-wage labourers, domestic workers, etc who have already suffered immensely due to the pandemic and the lock-down. Such forced evictions during a pandemic have only worsened the adverse impacts on their lives and their livelihood.
  • The residents worry that even if ‘relocated’, the move might drastically affect access to their daily work, if the relocation is outside city limits. Such a move will also affect their children who attend schools in the neighbourhood. (Jayarajan, December 2019). It may be noted that this is not mere apprehension, but based on multiple past experiences of shoddy ‘rehabilitation’ of thousands of other evictees who were literally thrown out of the city, miles away from their work sites. 
  • The main demand of the residents, therefore, is that they need housing within the city limits as most of them are labourers, auto drivers or from other informal sectors. (Omjasvin, December 2020) 

Uncertainty in relocation and rehabilitation:

  • As of November 2020 (Viswanathan, 2020), only 1,750 families were relocated from SM Nagar to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board tenements in Perumbakkam. However, the remaining 350 families are living a life of uncertainty.
  • The families currently living in SM Nagar live amid debris. Newspaper reports note that children in the area study and play amid the debris of houses.
  • Many of these families are now cut off from basic facilities like electricity and water supply. (Viswanathan, Nov, 2020). 

Saga of Evictions camouflaged as ‘development’:

It is commonplace knowledge that eviction of people living slums like SM Nagar or Thangavelu Street are not isolated incidents, but part of the systemic apathy, furthered by neo-liberal notions and actions of ‘development’ championed by the Central government and several state governments. Reportedly, under the new ‘eco-restoration’ initiatives, close to 60,000 families have been earmarked for eviction from the banks of Chennai’s rivers, according to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), The families are considered to be living in “objectionable locations,” which means in low-lying, flood-prone areas. Many have already been relocated.
This anti working-class development model continues to cause the suffering of millions who are displaced in the name of development and renders this suffering invisible. Any restoration or development project must include community participation. In 2019, the Delhi High Court (Ajay Maken v. Union of India) observed Right To The City as an “extension and an elaboration of the core elements of the right to shelter”. A right to the city, as examined by activists and scholars, is a right of all the residents of a city to “an equal share of the benefits offered by the city as well as the right to participate equally in the planning and creation of the city”.
Right to shelter is an internationally recognized right. Courts have acknowledged it as right to life  enshrined under Article 21 of Constitution
Thus, any such project that excludes the local communities from participation breaches this right. Further, any such project that requires the forced eviction of persons without adequate and better-off rehabilitation measures is but a mere beautification exercise aimed at making life easier for the city's dominant sections. ‘Development’ or ‘ecological conservation’ cannot be sans fairness and equilibrium, impoverishing the working people, even further. That these "few" are often the most marginalized, stigmatized persons in the region reflects the iniquitous ideas of growth plaguing the nation and begs greater attention.
The right to shelter is an internationally recognized right. On multiple occasions, Courts have acknowledged the right to shelter as an important component of the right to life as enshrined under Article 21 of our Constitution (as early as from Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, (1985) 3 SCC 545). Numerous international covenants that India is a signatory to, also provide guarantees against forced evictions. Despite this, persons (often the most marginalized and stigmatized) are rendered shelterless by the state without any concern for their life, dignity, and access to the minimum basics of “food, shelter, and housing”.
A statement released by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HRLN) on November 19, 2020 notes that over 54,000 people have been affected by eighty-three forced evictions and demolition incidents by Central and State governments across India between 15th March 15 and October 31 2020 alone. This, at a time when the nation was reeling under the combined effect of pandemic, lockdown and unprecedented economic distress.
In numerous cases, the affected persons were not provided prior notice or resettlement. They have been rendered homeless and face heightened exposure to the coronavirus as well as the cold weather and air pollution, which compounds their health risks. Reasons for the documented evictions include construction and infrastructure projects, government and forest land clearance, ‘beautification’ projects, and implementation of court orders. Regardless of the rationale provided, evictions cannot be justified during this severe pandemic.
It is indeed a monumental institutional crime that despite the acute public health and economic crisis, human rights violations continue to be perpetuated by the State by way of forced evictions and displacement, landlessness, homelessness, agrarian distress, gender-based violence, attacks on civil liberties, and persecution of human rights defenders.
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) condemns the current and previous rounds of forced evictions in Sathyavani Muthu Nagar, Chennai and Thangavel Street, in violation of due process, without providing adequate accommodation and livelihood guarantees to the people, most of who are Dalits.
  • We stand with the aggrieved families who have been braving the brutal show of force by the Corporation authorities and the Police, including deprivation of necessities like electricity.
  • We call upon the Govt. of Tamil Nadu and concerned authorities in Chennai to uphold the right to life, livelihoods and housing of the urban working class in the state. 
  • We call upon the Govt of India to immediately announce and enforce a nationwide moratorium on all forms of evictions, at least until June 2021. 
  • We demand that no forcible evictions be carried out by the Govt. and the right to dignified housing, with all civic amenities be ensured immediately. 
---
Click here for signatories and references

Comments

TRENDING

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).