The Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board is planning to demolish and reconstruct the old buildings, but residents said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many had lost jobs and could not afford rent

More than 500 families in the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) tenements in Vaniyambadhi-Kuppaimedu in Mandaveli have been left in a lurch, as the Board has started demolishing their houses for reconstruction. Residents complained that the government should have not have done it during COVID-19 pandemic, as many are without jobs now, and wanted three more months to vacate.

There are over 500 families residing at the Vaniyambadhi-Kuppaimedu TNSCB tenements, off Venkatakrishna Road in Mandaveli, and most of the residents have been residing in the 13 tenements for close to 46 years. “As the buildings have become old, the TNSCB wanted to demolish and rebuild them. The officials asked us to vacate eight months ago. However many women, including me, met Deputy Chief Minister O. Paneerselvam this year and requested more time. He agreed for us to stay till May this year,” said M. Prema, a resident of the locality.

From May onwards, many residents vacated their houses and shifted to rented premises. “Most of the residents here are daily- wage earners. Due to COVID-19, many of us lost jobs and were not able to pay rent. Hence we returned to the TNSCB tenements recently,” said Karthik, another resident.

But in the past week, TNSCB officials reportedly pressured the residents to vacate. “They came with earth-movers on Tuesday morning and asked us to vacate. They handed over allotment orders to many, and started demolishing the houses of those who accepted the orders. The workers went inside and emptied the houses. Policemen were also deployed to prevent law and order problems,” added Ms. Geetha, another resident.

Ms. Prema said that they were willing to vacate, but needed three more months. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible for many to pay rent as people have lost their jobs. The government can postpone the demolition by two months at least. Now we don’t have any place to go. There are many senior citizens and children who are on the road now and are vulnerable to COVID-19,” she added.

Vanessa Peter, policy researcher, Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities, said that community participation should be practised before taking any such decision. “It is more pertinent during COVID-19 as people are already struggling due to loss of livelihood,” she explained.

Senior TNSCB officials were not available for comment.

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