Thursday, March 4, 2010

Expressways - quickest way to wiping out urban poor

How do you like the idea of zooming along a lovely, wide expressway with loud music in a SUV or a bike- sounds wonderful right? If that meant, having to give up your home and moving 20 km away from the city, would you still like those roads?

If you could reach desired destination in 8km, would you prefer travelling 19km to reach the same destination?

These are the two (among the several) problematic issues surrounding the celebrated elevated expressways, that are marketed as harbingers of urban development for Chennai. (“Celebrated” it is, as the Prime Minister felt it was important enough to fly to Chennai to lay the foundation stone himself on January 8, 2009. If only he had the time to travel another 20 km and see the resettlement colonies for the evicted poor….)

The two problems being-
1. The expressway projects are an euphemism for throwing out 30,000 families to Kannagi Nagar (Asia’s largest resettlement colony, an urban poor’s nightmare brought to life by Government)
2. The already existing Poonamallee high road connecting Chennai Port to Koyambedu extends for 8 km; whereas the proposed Expressway connecting Chennai port to Maduravoyil is 19 km long, questioning its need, when Poonamallee road can be expanded instead.

Slums along Coovum in Choolaimedu and Chetpet area face fresh threats of eviction due to the proposed Chennai Elevated Expressway connecting Chennai port to Maduravoyil. Earlier, in November 2009, children from the slums along Coovum sent a petition to the Chief Minister requesting not to evict them half way through their academic session, as their education will get hampered. Thus, slum evictions were temporarily stopped. Now, with the academic session ending in another month, fear of eviction haunts the slum dwellers.

The expressway is implemented under Phase-VII of the National Highways Development Project by National Highway Authority of India. However, the feasibility studies was done by a private consultancy firm, called the Wilbur Smith Associates. Right from its inception, the Expressway has been criticized for poor cost-benefit analysis and its need has been questioned. Moreover, the road which is constructed for heavy containers has 10 hairpin bends, which is dangerous. The Government proposes to resettle slum dwellers at resettlement colonies at Kannagi Nagar, which is a slum dweller’s nightmare. Both, the expressway itself and its consequences suffered by the poor pose problems.

Even as this project has just begun, it has evicted 1300 houses in Chetpet area. Anjalai, who lives in mortal fear of losing her home, says “We hear such horrible things about Kannagi Nagar., that it seems like a punishment for being poor in Chennai.” She wonders why the rich people never face eviction threats. One fails to understand why no commercial building along the expressway is being demolished. Most slum dwellers haven’t received proper notices, and this increases trauma of displacement. One wonders if a 1655 crore project had no funds to prepare notices and ensure it reaches the “victims” of the project.

The elevated expressway from Chennai port to Maduravoyil is only the tip of the iceberg causing slum evictions. There are at least 6 more expressways planned for Chennai city. Interestingly, all of these are along water bodies where there is a high concentration of slums.

“Urban development” and “expressways” seem to have become a euphemism for wiping poor out of urban space. An idea of inclusive growth seems to have come down to mean, inclusion by exclusion of the urban poor. This brings one to the question of urban space, its utility and citizenship. Urban poor are generally seen as “illegitimate” citizens of the city. The issue comes from lack of policy and legal regime to protect the urban poor, from displacements. If the civil society and we, the public continue to live in a comfort zone and allows its urban poor be thrown out like garbage, the eviction devil may feed on us soon.


venu said...

Dear friend

trying to organize people against this criminal policy of the government and BOT. we are trying our level best all over in kerala as well as from here (dubai)

venu said...

I invite you to see a blog related to the same issue of national highway development in kerala. please visit the link.

i wish to send to you the NH issues, the peoples response and what they are facing etc., my mail id is