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The forgotten families of Kannappar Thidal

Evicted from the streets over 20 years ago on the promise of free homes, each family living in the dingy space at the building located near Ripon Building is now asked to contribute Rs 4.5 lakh (Rs 6,500 as EMI) towards getting the house. DT Next reports

The forgotten families of Kannappar Thidal

Over 125 families have been living in the building without any basic amenities like drinking water and sewage connection for over 20 years

CHENNAI: As one of the most sought-after Metros in the country, Chennai is hailed for its medical facilities, educational institutions, other infrastructural development and superior living standards.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for the residents in Kannappar Thidal, a sub-locality in Periyamet, and barely 1-km away from Ripon Building, Egmore constituency that also houses the headquarters of the Chennai Corporation.

There are over 125 families at Kannappar Thidal, and all of them belong to the SC/ST community. They were evicted from the streets near Ripon Building by the then AIADMK government in 2001, and relocated to this place, on the promise of free homes and shelters.

They have been living here without any basic facilities like sewage and drinking water connection for the past 22 years.

Kannappar Thidal is a single-floor building with every nook and cranny occupied by its residents. Over 60% of the total population that lives here are women and children, all terrified for their personal safety.

Girls use public toilets and prefer to bathe at night on the terrace, whereas boys use open spaces for nature’s call.

“Often strangers smoke ganja inside the small lane nearby. We use a 5x2 metre-long area for gatherings (marriage, puberty function, baby shower etc). Our children’s dreams of achieving great strides are shattered by the toxic atmosphere,” lamented a mother of 2 kids.

Residents allege that they have been forgotten by politicians and government officials, as their requests for basic facilities have remained unattended. They also alleged that they have been lied to with regard to providing free homes, which is why residents announced on April 19 that they were boycotting the election.

Two decades after relocation, in April 2023, officials of the Greater Chennai Corporation promised to provide them housing-board flats in one of these areas — Moolakkothalam, Kargil Nagar-Tiruvottiyur and Ennore. Relieved, residents chose Moolakkothalam.

However, last month, the GCC issued a form asking for the details of employment confirmation and salary details. Based on the details provided, the government said that it would provide home loans through the IIFH (India Infoline Finance Limited banking) sector. It also stated it would provide homes but the beneficiary would have to pay Rs 2.5 lakh.

Due to the rise in construction materials, now the beneficiary cost has increased to Rs 4.5 lakh. The State government told them to either pay the full amount or pay Rs 6,500 rupees on EMI.

Most residents don’t have jobs, and those that do, work as daily wagers. Their monthly income is all the money the State government is telling them to pay as EMI – Rs 6,500. “Among the women here, most of us are widows. How are we supposed to pay this amount?” rued a resident.

A Class 5 student going to a government school told DT Next: “My dream is to become a dancer. I’ve won many prizes in my school by participating in dance competitions. I practice every day on the narrow path, as our living space is small.”

Pointing out that they barely have space to sleep, she added that it was hard “to get ready for school without a toilet and bathroom. That’s why we need a home, which the State government had initially offered for free. Now they’re asking for money we don’t have”.

A widow, who lost her husband eight years ago, has two granddaughters and a daughter with a hearing and speech disability. She’s begging on the streets to meet basic needs. “I beg for food parcels and eat only twice a day. I don’t know how I can make monthly payments,” she rued.

When asked about the plight of residents in Kannappar Thidal, Royapuram Zonal Secretary Tamil Selvan told DT Next that the officials had conducted a meeting with the 116 families, and collected biometric samples and other data, and submitted to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB). “By using the data, homes were temporarily allotted to families. Each family had to pay Rs 4.5 lakh as a contribution. After understanding the situation of the residents, we have tied up with IIFL Bank to provide them loans. The EMI amount will be reduced by increasing the paying duration,” he added.

Social activist Joel Shelton suggested that an in-situ housing programme must be built on the same land.

“It was even mentioned in the State Assembly in April 2023 by Minister TM Anbarasan (MSME & TN Urban Habitat Development Board). And, in-situ housing would reduce the beneficiary contribution cost. The State government must look for the provision of Tamil Nadu Shelter Funds, Special Component Plan (SPC) or Tahdco to avail a free housing programme for people in such situations. A policy decision on these lines will benefit the most marginalised communities of the city in accessing housing programmes,” he explained.

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