Ward councillors recently took a TNSCB meeting by storm by emphasizing on in-situ rehabilitation of all slums in their wards. As a participant in that meeting, I found myself cheering these councilors on, clapping enthusiastically and yearning to recount the experience. So here goes:
Some background information first: Consultants Darashaw & Company Ltd. has been hired to do the surveying and mapping of all slums in Chennai city, as required under the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). They have nearly completed their work in Zones 13 and 10. Community guidelines of the RAY require that the residents of slums be involved in the survey process and that the survey be presented before the communities for ratification before it is finalized. However in Chennai, these steps have not yet been followed. In one of our meetings with the Board, we were told that a “public” consultation would first be held with ward councillors where the list of slums identified in the zone would be presented, along with the Board’s tentative plans for their redevelopment. Admittedly, we were apprehensive because a meeting with councillors is not quite the same as a public meeting with community members participating. Also, one hears many horror stories of councillors acting against the interests of the poor people in the ward. However, our fears were laid to rest during the first consultation done for Zone 13 that was conducted in a democratic and transparent manner, and during which the TNSCB officials made an explicit commitment towards holding a larger public meeting with residents upon the completion of the survey (see earlier post from Nithya for more details on this meeting!).
I attended the Zone 10 meeting, which was held on March 19, 2013. The tone of the meeting was set early on, with councillors interrupting the TNSCB chairman’s speech to ask the Board to cut to the chase and present the Zonal data which was of relevance to them. As the survey data from each ward was presented along with maps, the councillors took charge of the meeting and assertively voiced the needs of the people. (They had earlier been given the list of surveyed slums in their ward, using which they had obviously done thorough homework).
Ward 127 Councillor K. Malai Rajan went first, and insisted that the residents of Koyambedu Colony be rehabilitated in situ, assuring the Board that the land lay on village naththam poramboke (common lands) that can be given to residents. He made a similar demand for New Colony which lies close to a riverbank and was slated for relocation by the Board in the RAY survey. Finally, the Board officials agreed to conduct a joint inspection of the area to determine further course of action. He also pointed out that the residents of Kulasekarapuram which was developed under the TNUDP, had not received sale deeds yet, and urged the Board to look into land transfer issues to speed up this process. He identified slums that had been left out in the survey and made relevant points about the need for the Board to create awareness on the RAY and its potential benefits among the people so that they do not resist the surveying process.
After him, one after the other, every councilor made specific demands for the slums of their ward. Repair of existing TNSCB tenements, civic issues such as drainage problems in these tenements and the need for declaration and property title for slums that have existed on private lands for many years were some of the common issues raised by them. Some of them even pointed to vacant lands owned by the government in their wards, which could be used to relocate people living on so-called “objectionable” or “untenable” land. But most importantly, all of them emphasized on the need to involve councillors in plans and processes concerning the slums in their ward, and on cooperation and concerted action from the Corporation, MetroWater and the Board to solve issues in these areas.
The Board for its part provided a democratic space at the meeting that allowed criticism, and responded to the points made by the councillors. Ultimately, attendees agreed that a committee would be set up to look into the issue of slums on private lands, and to facilitate meetings with MLAs as well to discuss strategies for slums.
This meeting was promising: one hopes that the voices of the people will be heard resoundingly at the forthcoming public meetings, and that the Board would be empathetic to their needs. We at Transparent Chennai are keeping our fingers crossed.
The Rajiv Awas Yojana Guidelines for Community Participation states that this ratification is necessary to ensure that no households are left out and the data collected is accurate. In addition, it states that “in slums where the survey has been carried out by agencies without the participation of the community, it is imperative to get the data verified and validated by the community.” This must be done by means of camps and meetings organized by the ULBs. Accessed at http://mhupa.gov.in/ray/Planning_guidelines2012.pdf
Written by Priti Narayan, researcher, Transparent Chennai