Leaky flats: 77 families relocated by Kochi Corporation face flooding nightmare

Barely five months after 77 families shifted to Mundamveli in West Kochi from in P and T Colony in Kadavanthra seeking relief from inundation by rainwater and sewage, their new flats flooded during the season's first rain in May.
Leaky flats: 77 families relocated by Kochi Corporation face flooding nightmare
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“When the first rains hit Ernakulam in May this year, water seeped into the flat through the walls, flooding a whole room in my ground floor flat,” said Lalitha, a 60-year-old resident of the GCDA-LIFE Mission Housing Complex in Mundamveli, West Kochi. It had been barely five months since 77 families including Lalitha’s shifted to Mundamveli from their homes in P and T Colony in Kadavanthra, seeking permanent relief from frequent inundation by the overflowing Perandoor Canal. 

The story of the 77 families, mostly consisting of daily wage labourers, is also the story of the urbanisation of Kochi, the hub of Kerala's Ernakulam district. The growth of the city has put them through dispossession by the State – not once, but twice. Over 40 years ago, P and T Colony was set up on the banks of the Perandoor Canal as a resettlement site for those displaced by the development of Cochin Shipyard in Thevara. The Corporation of Kochi decided to relocate them a second time after the inundation of their homes by the contaminated water flowing through the canal became a regular occurrence, even during light rain. 

However, as Sumesh, the president of the P and T Colony residents’ association, said, “When they shifted to Mundamveli in January 2024, it was a dream come true for the 77 families, who believed the days of rainwater and sewage flooding their homes was finally behind them. But they have ended up in the same nightmare.”

The residents place small vessels in the wall to collect the leaking water
The residents place small vessels in the wall to collect the leaking water

Flooding in P and T 

Cheshire, an Ernakulam-native RTI activist, spoke to TNM about the history of the residents of P and T Colony. According to him, the resettlement site was set up by filling up one side of the Perandoor Canal, severely constricting the flow of water. Several years into the relocation, the residents started to face flooding, with the water from the canal entering their houses whenever it rained. Adding to their woes was the fact that the water was severely polluted.

While numerous small industries, hoteliers, and houses on its banks are responsible for the canal’s contamination, the blame for polluting it was largely shouldered by the residents of P and T. 

“It is true that our sewage waste was directly open to the canal. But it is not just us, those living in nearby areas dump their waste water, including kitchen and sewage waste, in the canal. Even a hospital nearby used to dump waste and water in the canal,” Sumesh said. 

The only ones who directly bore the brunt of the contamination and encroachments were those who lived on the banks of the canal, like the former residents of P and T. “It was difficult during the rains. The contaminated water would flood our houses and ruin our belongings. We used to go to relief camps during heavy flooding. Our plight was unmanageable,” Lalitha said.

The banks of Perandoor Canal where the P and T Colony was located.
The banks of Perandoor Canal where the P and T Colony was located.

Significance of Perandoor Canal

The Perandoor Canal that is the cause for the plight of those living on its banks was once considered the lifeline of the city. Starting from Thevara, it passes through prime, populated locations such as Kaloor, Kadavanthra, Panampilly Nagar, Ernakulam Junction railway station, and the city’s Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus stand, ending in Perandoor. While its width is said to be 50 m to 100 m, encroachments and construction have affected the canal throughout its 12 km course.

The changes to the canal came with the growth of the city. “Kochi as we know it now was covered with paddy fields until a few decades ago,” recollected Cheshire. The land was crisscrossed by canals like the Perandoor, serving purposes of both irrigation and transport. 

However, with increasing urbanisation, several canals were filled up and their width decreased. Subsequently, waste dumping from households and industries ensured that the canals were not only constricted but also severely polluted.  

Pipes carrying contaminated water are opening to the canal.
Pipes carrying contaminated water are opening to the canal.

The decision to rehabilitate the residents of P and T came after they held several protests citing terrible living conditions. It was on July 31, 2018, that a foundation stone was laid by the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with a promise of permanent rehabilitation to the residents of P and T colony. The contract for the project was awarded to the Thrissur District Labour Contract Society (TDLC), a government-accredited agency. 

The TLDC took five years and six months to build the flat. Ironically, the construction method used was Pre Engineered Building (PEB), which is usually used to ensure faster completion. EB technique involves the use of pre-designed and pre-fabricated components that are only assembled on-site.

No end in sight for suffering 

TNM visited the newly built flats on May 31, a day after torrential rain hit Kochi, resulting in flooding in different parts of the city, waterlogging on the roads, and hours of traffic disruption in major locations of the city. The flat’s walls were still wet, with marks where the water had seeped through still visible. Clothes had been used to plug the leaking walls in places, while small vessels were kept in places to collect the water. 

Thirty-three-year-old Asha, who works as a lottery agent in Ernakulam, complained that her household items, including the cot and bed, had been damaged. Showing us one of her rooms, she said, “Now we use this as a storeroom because we can't put our bed in it, as it will be all wet and damaged later.” A similar complaint was raised by 65-year-old Suhara, who lives on the second floor.  

Some of the residents also spoke about the difficulties faced by bedridden persons when the flat starts to leak during sudden rain and their apartments become inundated. Sukumaran is a 62-year-old bedridden person who lives on the ground floor. His daughter-in-law said, “In the last rain, water entered his bedroom. We do not know what to do when the monsoon starts.” 

Lalitha says this is not the first inconvenience they faced after moving to the new apartment. “This is not the first time we have encountered inconvenience, this has been started from the beginning. The first month the sewage tank leaked and sewage water seeped into the flat below. Now see the entrance, it is filled with mud. A few days back I slipped there. A lot of children live here. What if something happens to them?” she asked.

The residents say that they have filed complaints with the GCDA, not once but several times. “If we complain, no action will be taken beyond someone coming and taking a cursory look,” Sumesh said. 

TNM spoke to a GCDA official who did not wish to be named, about the condition of the flats in Mundamveli. Athira, who had worked on the project, said that the leak is due to a defect in the design that can be rectified.

“We covered the steel-concrete joints with cement boards. When rainwater hits with the building force, water enters through these joints. This is a design flaw. We were unable to foresee this issue during construction. We have already done leak-proofing, but that is not effective during heavy rain. We have submitted a proposal to the technical committee to seal the leaks. It is a 100% solvable problem,” the official said. 

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