The storyline of the Matt Damon-starrer Elysium is that the poor and deprived people of the apocalyptic Earth are quarantined on the deteriorating planet while rich and astute stay in spaceship revolving around the Earth.
Nearly 50,000 families who had made the river banks their home for decades and slum people affected by tsunami and 2015 floods have been evicted out of the city by the public works department, Chennai Corporation and resettled in multi-storeyed tenements built by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB).
While TNSCB had built many such apartments for the slum dwellers, the board, citing unavailability of land, built the apartments in Kannagi Nagar-Ezhil Nagar, Semmancheri at the tail end of the Chennai Corporation and Perumbakkam, outside the city corporation.
Even though the government is providing education, health care and civic amenities to the evicted families, one problem — lack of employment — persists for more than a decade. The residents of tenements are either forced to travel all the way to the city to meet ends meet or quit.
“I have been working as a painter in Koyambedu area. Since I moved to the Perumbakkam TNSCB apartment, I quit the job and now I am unemployed. I had to spend Rs 120 per day to travel up and down, which is a major chunk of my day’s income. Now I am searching for a new job in the local area,” D Sivakumar, a resident of Perumbakkam, said.
As most of the residents are experienced handymen, some have jobs as plumbers, electricians and others at IT parks on the Old Mahabalipuram Road, while women are working as housekeepers. “However, many of us are unemployed as employers hesitate to hire us once they come to know that we are from the settlements,” S Govindan, president of the Federation of Perumbakkam welfare associations said.
Apart from the unemployment issue, the residents of Perumbakkam are demanding a higher secondary school, as their children are travelling to Sholinganallur, Semmancheri, Karapakkam, Adyar and Kelambakkam to attend school.
“In Perumbakkam alone, there are at least 10,000 children. But we have schools only up to Class 10. As the students have their bus passes, money is saved. But they are spending the majority of their time travelling. We need more buses for the students and workers travelling towards the city,” Govindan said.
Govindan added that, of the 23,000 tenements in the Perumbakkam settlement, more than 13,000 are occupied by families brought from Perumbakkam, Tambaram, Saidapet and other parts. “Even though we have a population for a separate assembly constituency, we are travelling to Sithalapakkam to pay EB bills. To pay Rs 100, we are spending Rs 200. We need an EB office inside the apartment premises.”
Exuding the same plights, residents of Semmancheri TNSCB settlements said that they are adjusted to the difficulties of travelling long. “Once we were residing inside the city, our workplaces were mostly in a walkable distance. Now we are travelling more the two hours to go to work,” a resident of Semmancheri said.
Slum dwellers from Foreshore Estate, Tiruvanmiyur, Chintadripet, Choolaimedu and other areas were shifted to Semmancheri 12 years ago and they received an urban health centre only a few months ago. Semmancheiri TNSCB tenements house more than 6,800 families. “Jobs are available only beyond Tiruvanmiyur. The government had put us in a predicament, and we have become untouchables to the city,” the resident riled.
Meanwhile, residents of TNSCB apartments in Kannagi Nagar-Ezhil Nagar are facing various civic issues, including sewage overflow, water scarcity and others. More than 28,000 families are in Kannagi Nagar – Ezhil Nagar apartments and the board is filling the vacant tenements continuously.
“Nearly a week ago, the government had opened a big hospital in our locality. But, it has failed to appoint doctors and supply medical equipment,” a tea shop owner in the Kannagi Nagar said.