‘Want a home close to our livelihoods’: Chennai residents evicted for Cooum restoration

The homes of 221 families in Chennai’s Padikuppam Rail Nagar are being razed as part of the Cooum eco-restoration project.
A house being demolished for Cooum eco-restoration project in Padikuppam area of Mogappair
A house being demolished for Cooum eco-restoration project in Padikuppam area of Mogappair
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Three months ago, Jayanthi* married into a home with dreams of raising her children in the one-story house located at Padikuppam Rail Nagar near Moggapair in Chennai. But on Friday, Jayanthi’s dreams came crashing down when the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) razed her home along with 50 other houses. Jayanthi says that on November 14 she and other residents were given three days' notice by the government to pack up their belongings and evict citing the Cooum eco-restoration project.

Jayanthi says, “We are standing in the road without a place to gonow. We do not even know if they will give us an alternate place because they are yet to give us an order copy for the new home.”

Jayanthi’s in-laws have been staying in the same house for the past 27 years, investing their meagre daily savings into constructing their house. However, on Friday, their home was lost forever. “It’s so disturbing for us to see our homes being brought down in front of us. We are not against the eviction drive but we just want a home near a place that can provide us a livelihood,” she says. 

The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board began its eviction drive of 221 homes in Padikuppam area of Mogappair on Tuesday. The government has allotted these evicted residents a home at the Navalur Slum Clearance Board tenements in Padappai - over 33 kilometres away. But most residents, whose livelihoods have revolved around the Koyambedu market, urged the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board to provide them homes at Attippattu in Minjur. Despite being 30 kilometres away from their present locale, they say that getting a new job would be easier in Minjur given the number of industries. However, PWD officials say that the under-construction of slum tenements at Attippattu is ongoing and will be ready only by April.

“We are ready to wait for the next few months but the government should assure us a home because we cannot look for a new job in Padappai,” Jayanthi says. Twenty-three-year-old Jayanthi’s husband runs a mobile shop near Koyambedu and he is completely dependent on the customers coming to the market for the sales. She explains, “The officials told us to go to Padappai but we want a home in Attippattu. We will stay in rented homes till they provide us an allotment in Attippattu. Also, if we move into the home in Padappai, we cannot ask them for a change of place. I don't even know where Padappai is located. Then how can we start a new business or survive? So we should be given a home at Attippattu.”   

Residents, however, say about twenty families left for Padappai as they did not have a place to stay nor money to rent a house and their livelihoods were not directly dependent on Koyambedu. 

Jagadeswaran, a social activist who has been helping residents, alleges, “The government doesn't want to give Attippattu tenements in Minjur to the residents because they started the eviction without notice and now to prevent them from staying on the road, they are moving them to Padappai under pressure.”

“Many companies in Padappai are ready to help the families under CSR funds but they are not ready to provide jobs. The companies say that the workers from the slum clearance board will create problems which just increases stigma. But these residents are hopeful that they will get a job in Minjur,” he says adding that the eviction will also affect students.  

Public Works Department officials say that houses for all 221 families have been allotted in Padappai. “We have also taken note of the demand of the people to provide a home in Attippattu. However, the works are ongoing in Attippattu and the works will get over only by April so we cannot say anything. The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board is responsible for the allotment,” the PWD official said. “The eviction work will continue for 2-3 days after which the Cooum restoration works will begin,” she adds.

The Cooum river restoration project in Chennai aims to clean-up and bring back to life the polluted river, which originates in Thiruvallur district. The Tamil Nadu government had allocated Rs 1370 crore in this year’s budget to restore Chennai’s thee rivers- Adyar, Buckingham Canal and the Cooum.

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