Category Archives: Housing

The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 2 – Now It Is a Concrete Jungle!


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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The Pallikarani wetland serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rainwater and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965).

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump almost 2,600 tonnes of garbage per day, which is over one-third of the garbage of the ever-growing metropolis, here in this climatic marshland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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Now, the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article “The mired marsh” by Shaju John. He has augmented his article with photographs captured by him in the post-Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse each day.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums, frequent the garbage dumps.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Air samples from the Perungudi garbage dumping yard registered the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample. The air contained cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.

People living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland continually inhale the omnipresent malodorous virulent air. They suffer the stifling smoke. They have no other alternative than to use the polluted and poisoned ground water. These factors subject them to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

On June 15, 2012, a concerned Jaison Jeeva uploaded the following video on YouTube. It shows the fire accident that happened at the garbage dumps in Pallikaranai. The incident caused physical and mental disturbance to the people in the vicinity.

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There is an incredible rate of development in the Pallikaranai wetland. The sanctioning of many IT parks has resulted in countless high-rise office and residential buildings.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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The campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Engineering and Dental Colleges, and Hospitals have been built on the marshland.

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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All these encroachments have led to building infrastructures such as the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland.

Sadly, all these rampant developments have shrunk the water spread.

With policies in place to crack down on encroachment, illegal waste disposal, and poaching, there is still hope for saving the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Even so, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

An official release on Friday, June 9, 2006 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) underscores the need to protect the rare species of fauna and flora in the ecologically important wetland of Chennai.

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Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.
Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.

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To retain the groundwater recharging potential the TNPCB banned the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the Pallikaranai marshland. The TNPCB directive states that untreated sewage should be discharged only into the sewage treatment plant operated by Metrowater at Perungudi. The TNPCB warned that violators of its directions would be Penalized without prior notice under section 15 (1) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

On June 10, 2006, The Hindu in an article titled “Dumping banned in Pallikaranai marsh” said:

The punishment under this section involves imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.1 lakh, or both. In cases of repeated violation, the penalty involves additional fine, which may extend to Rs. 5,000 for every day during which the contravention occurs, after the conviction for the first violation.

Further, if the violation continues beyond a period of one year after the date of first conviction, the offender is liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend to seven years. According to the press note, the basis of the directive is a routine inspection of the Perungudi dump site and the marsh zone by the TNPCB, which found that unsegregated garbage along with other wastes emptied into the marshland by the Chennai Corporation and other local bodies as well as private agencies. This garbage is burnt by ragpickers, causing nuisance to the residential areas and setting off air-pollution. The inspection also observed that untreated sewage collected from nearby areas in tanker lorries was being discharged into the marshland.

The TNPCB has also constituted a Local Area Environment Committee to protect the marsh. The public can refer any complaint on discharge of sewage or solid wastes into the marsh area by any agencies to this committee through the District Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, Tambaram (Phone 22266239). The Pollution Control Board’s announcement comes just days after a non-governmental initiative released the results of a recent study on air quality.

In April 2008, the Madras High Court directed the State Government of Tamilnadu to remove all encroachments on the Pallikaranai marshlands. The Madras High Court also directed the Chennai Corporation not to allow the four municipalities – Pallavaram, Madipakkam, Kottivakkam and Valasaravakkam – to dump garbage at Perungudi after April 30, 2008.

On April 3, 2008, The Hindu in an article titled “Court directive on Perungudi garbage dump” said:

Passing interim orders on two writ petitions, the Bench said the State Government should not permit any construction activity on the marshlands. The court appointed a six-member expert committee, with Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, TIIC, as its convener to inspect the Perungudi Municipal Solid Waste Yard, CMWSSB treatment plant and the surrounding areas and submit a report regarding the suitability of the present site for usage and the continuance as a municipal solid waste ground and sewage treatment plant; to review compliance of various legislations, guidelines, rules and regulations in relation to dumping of solid waste and discharge of sewage; to review the earlier studies done by various agencies, and the measures taken and proposed to protect the Pallikaranai marsh and render suggestions for restoration and protection of the marsh.

The committee would also suggest measures for remediation of the land, ground water, flora and fauna in the marsh and Seevaram, Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Perungudi villages. It would also consider the cumulative aspects of dumping of garbage, discharge of sewage and conversion of the marshlands to other use and suggest scientific alternative methods of dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage in the light of the methods in other countries.

The committee would conduct public hearing to ascertain the views of the residents of the four villages. The report should be made within six months, the Bench said.

Pending receipt of the report, the Chennai Corporation was directed not to permit their trucks to dump garbage on either side of the road and to remove the garbage already dumped on either side of 60 Feet Road abutting the residential areas and also the 200 feet road, within four weeks. It should demarcate the area of 200 acres which had been allotted to it by CMWSSB and further demarcate 106 acres which was actually used for dumping waste. Security at the dumping site should be increased to prevent incidents of fire. Appropriate scheme for segregating biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes should be evolved and submitted to the court within three months.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in its report in respect of the landfill at Perungudi submitted that the Chennai Corporation had not complied with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.

Seven years have passed since then, but even now, dumping of garbage and sewage in the Pallikaranai marshland by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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← Previous: The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna

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India and Day 26 – Part 3: The Devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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December 26, 2004 – Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami

On Sunday, December 26, 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake, known as the Sumatra–Andaman earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC in the Indian Ocean with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, between Simeulue in the Aceh province of Indonesia and mainland Indonesia. The earthquake with a magnitude of Mw 9.1–9.3, is the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph.

The duration of faulting, between 8.3 and 10 minutes, was the longest ever observed. The behemothic quake caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other minor earthquakes as far away as Alaska.

The tsunami was then known by various other names such as: “The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” “South Asian tsunami,” and “Indonesian tsunami.” Since the tsunami occurred on December 26, it was also known as the “Christmas tsunami” and the “Boxing Day tsunami.”

December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (Source: all-that-is-interesting.com)
December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. (Source: all-that-is-interesting.com)

The earthquake triggered a tsunami, considered to be one of the deadliest in history, which inundated coastal communities with waves up to 100 feet (30 meters) high and killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

Costlines severely hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami (Source: academic.evergree.edu)
Coastlines severely hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami (Source: academic.evergree.edu)

The huge waves racing at the speed of a jet aircraft took fifteen minutes to seven hours to reach the various coastlines. The waves hit the northern regions of the Indonesian island of Sumatra immediately. Thailand was struck about two hours later, despite being closer to the epicentre because the tsunami waves travelled more slowly in the shallow Andaman Sea off its western coast. About an hour and a half to two hours after the quake, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India were hit. The waves then reached the Maldives.

Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

The earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Indian Ocean had a devastating effect on India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs about 18,000 are estimated dead.

The following table compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that a total of 227,898 people died. According to this table, in mainland India and in its territories, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 12,405 people died in the tsunami, around 5,640 are missing and 647,599 people have been displaced.

Figures compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Country where
deaths occurred
Confirmed Estimated Injured Missing Displaced
Indonesia 130,736 167,799 n/a 37,063 500,000+
Sri Lanka 35,322 35,322 21,411 n/a 516,150
India 12,405 18,045 n/a 5,640 647,599
Thailand 5,395 8,212 8,457 2,817 7,000
Somalia 78 289 n/a n/a 5,000
Myanmar (Burma) 61 400–600 45 200 3,200
Maldives 82 108 n/a 26 15,000+
Malaysia 68 75 299 6 5,000+
Tanzania 10 13 n/a n/a n/a
Seychelles 3 3 57 n/a 200[70]
Bangladesh 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
South Africa 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
Yemen 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
Kenya 1 1 2 n/a n/a
Madagascar n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,000+
Total ~184,167 ~230,273 ~125,000 ~45,752 ~1.69 million

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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean were devastated by the tsunami, and by the initial quake and several aftershocks that occurred during the following days. The Great Nicobar and Car Nicobar islands were the worst hit among all the islands due to their proximity to the epicentre of the quake and because of the relatively flat terrain.

One-fifth of the population in Nicobar Islands was reported dead, missing or wounded. Chowra Island lost two-thirds of its population of 1,500. Communication was cut off when many islands submerged. The Trinket Island was bifurcated.

Fishing communities were destroyed and very little is known about the effects of the tsunami on the indigenous tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The official death toll in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was 1,310, with about 5,600 missing from the islands. But the unofficial death toll, including those missing and presumed dead, was estimated to be around 7,000.

Map showing Tsunami Affected Area in India.
Map showing Tsunami Affected Areas in India.

The tsunami hit the southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. It inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast. Around 8,000 deaths were reported from Tamilnadu, and around 200 deaths from Kerala. The district of Nagapattinam was the worst hit in Tamil Nadu, with nearly 5,500 deaths.

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast of southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. Crown. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)
The tsunami of December 26, 2004 inundated villages and devastated cities along the coast of southeastern regions of the Indian mainland. Crown. (Source: indyas.hpage.co.in)

Surprisingly, Bangladesh, which lies at the northern end of the Bay of Bengal, had only two confirmed deaths, despite being a low-lying country and located relatively near the epicenter. Also, distance alone does not guarantee a safety since Somalia located in the Horn of Africa on the eastern coast was hit harder than Bangladesh even though it is much farther away.

Coasts, with a landmass between them and the location of origin of a tsunami, are usually deemed safe, but tsunami waves can sometimes steer around such landmasses. Being a relatively small island, the western coast of Sri Lanka suffered substantial damages from the impact of the tsunami; likewise, the Indian state of Kerala too was hit by the tsunami, despite being on the western coast of India.

The government of India announced a financial package of about US$200 million to Andaman and Nicobar islands after the tsunami, but the unbearable living conditions due to rise in sea level, constant aftershocks and fear of another similar tsunami, propelled thousands of settlers on the islands to relocate to the Indian mainland.

According to the World Bank, reconstruction was expected to cost more than US$1.2 billion in India alone.

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 Previous ~ India and Day 26 – Part 2: Turmoil in Gujarat

Next → India and Day 26 – Part 4: Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai – 1

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)
Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

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Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965). It serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rain water and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump over one-third of the garbage, almost 2,600 tonnes per day, of the ever-growing metropolis here in this climactic wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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At present the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article The mired marshby Shaju John. This article was augmented by photographs  captured by him in the post Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums frequent the garbage dump.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Continual inhaling of the ever-present malodorous germ and virus bound air, the stifling smoke, polluted and poisoned ground water subject the people living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

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The incredible rate of development, such as the rampant construction of sanctioned IT parks, the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) campus, Hospitals, Colleges, high-rise office and residential buildings, the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland also have immensely contributed to the shrinking of the water spread.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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With policies in place to crackdown on poaching, encroachment and illegal waste disposal, there is yet hope for the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

However, even now, dumping of garbage by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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“Slum free India! – The Dream” by Nipesh Narayanan


   By Nipesh P. Narayanan

  • Published by Human Settlement Management Institute under HUDCO in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, Habitat for Humanity on the occasion of world habitat day 2012. (October 2012 edition) http://hudco.org/writereaddata/shelter.pdf (Page 41)

Ever since the honourable president announced the vision for a slum-free [1] India this had been the limelight of discussion in the intelligentsia in social, and urban development field. One of the most shocking revelations came when the Parekh Committee stated that five years were too less for this dream to come true. Even so, the positive side to this was that those five years were the first phase for the realization of the dream. By following a structured methodology, this dream is quite achievable.

There are a few myths that need to be broken off before we proceed, and there needs to be a paradigm shift.

ARE SLUMS REALLY A BAD PLACE TO LIVE IN?

When we say slums, we talk about a place which more than 93 million [2] people call their home. When India has an upper hand in the global economy through a demographic dividend, every eighth child up to six years-old lives in a slum; thus, making the situation grave. However, before we set to solve the problem we need to have a better understanding of the problem itself. Undoubtedly, slums have many negative things, but there are many positives to it, which we need to preserve. Preservation of these positives is all the more important; even majority of the planned development in urban India, lacks them.

Social Structure

Slums in general have an intricate social structure. The organic nature of the slums helps in building strong interpersonal relationships. It should be noted that in current times one even refuse to recognise the next door neighbour in an apartment while an entire gully in a slum lives like a family [3]. The alley (gully) in a slum is the most vibrant and important open space. During the different times of a day, the street transforms itself into various functions according to the needs of the occupants, acting like a strong social spine for the community within and the neighbouring locality.

EXAMPLE: Major community interaction happens on the street. Women dominate the street in the mornings sharing the space for daily activities – from washing clothes to cutting vegetables. In the afternoons, the kids who return from school play in the gully where every member of the community can keep an eye on them. By evening, the male members sit outside and discuss work [4].

Street as a living room

One of the most talked about slum redevelopment is Maharashtra’s SRA schemes where the builder gets the right to the land after the completion of houses for the slum dwellers. Taking from SRA schemes in Pune, the flats created for the slum dwellers completely ignore the social structure. One of the main reasons for this to happen is because there is no participatory planning process. The SRA scheme has a very good process in place for informing the slum dwellers on what they are getting, but there is no process in place for the community to get involved at the design stage; thus the resulting design is the outcome of an architect’s vision who has never lived the way the community lives. A stark difference can be seen in the city of Sangli, just coupleof hours from Pune; where an NGO ‘Shelter Associates’ have involved the community in the design process through GIS and other architectural tools. The design of new homes for slum dwellers in Sangli demonstrates how the social structure of the community can be enhanced by the involvement of the community which thereby improves the local environment.

EXAMPLE: In a typical architectural logic, interiors of a house should not be visible to the other house, so generally apartments and flats are staggered to avoid the entrances facing each other, which is a good design practice in usual scenario. However, experience from the slums clearly shows that the first level of the interior space of a house in a slum is permeable and needs community access. This particular issue and many other such nuances are unacceptable for a normal architectural mind, and therefore, the community needs to be involved in the design from the beginning.

Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) has a very detailed chapter on community participation, also it requires 70% community consensus for a project to go ahead. However, the biggest road block for this is the lack of capacity in ULBs, also there is only a handful of CBOs working in the housing sector which aggravates this problem.

Lack of sanitation in slums – Jawaharlal Nehru Camp Delhi
Lack of sanitation in slums – Jawaharlal Nehru Camp Delhii

Morphology

The organic layout of the slums produces a mix of different-sized houses, thus addressing the varied demands of the slum dwellers, including rental options. It should be noted that one size won’t fit all in this sector. A slum is not a homogeneous entity; the heterogeneity of a slum is what is difficult to replicate in a new development. The mix of different types of housing and commercial options is based on the market demand. In a slum, there is a differential mix of both commercial and housing. Whereas in housing itself there is a wide range:

  1. Different size of houses
  2. Rental houses/rooms
  3. Dormitories
  4. Single room tenements

The proportions of different types in this heterogeneous entity vary from place to place in a city itself. This mixed character needs to be preserved whenever an intervention is done in a slum.

EXAMPLE: JNNURM established the minimum size for a dwelling to be 25 sq m. But what is more important and determines the quality of life in a dwelling unit is the per person area. Many slums have 6-10 people staying in a house, thus providing them with a 25 sq m house means that one person gets a maximum of 4 sq m, which is worse than providing a 15 sq m room for single occupancy. Thus, any slum redevelopment project should consider a mix of different housing typologies that need to be incorporated. Based on the location, there should be a mix of typologies between dormitories to joint family units.

Sculptors in Gulbai Tekra Ahmedabad
Sculptors in Gulbai Tekra Ahmedabad

Economics

As the general rule goes: almost always there is no one who is unemployed in a slum! One of the main reasons for the focus of in situ redevelopment in RAY is to retain the livelihood options of the community which has developed over the years. Keeping the location intact is not an action enough to keep the livelihood of the community. Slums in general have a varied occupational involvement and in that regard, every slum is different from each other. While designing for a slum the spatial needs for these occupations and its related activities need to be taken care of individually.

EXAMPLE: Every slum is involved in different economic activities.

The slum of Sunder Nagari in Delhi is extremely a shoe making community. Each house is a mini factory and loads of different-sized shoes are produced in each house, thus there is a need for different spatial design of these houses in case of redevelopment.

Similarly, Gulbai Tekra in Ahmadabad mainly consists of sculptors. Now this is a different case from Sunder Nagari because in Gulbai Tekra, the houses are normal, but the community space (or the clustering of the houses) is articulated in a manner to create workshops for these artifacts. Furthermore, there are special spatial requirements like protecting the sculptures from sun and rain.

These examples are presented to emphasise that there is more to livelihood than location.

Considerable Increase in self investment for housing after SNP in Sharif Khan ni Challi in Ahmadabad
Considerable Increase in self investment for housing after SNP in Sharif Khan ni Challi in Ahmadabad

WAY FORWARD

When one talks about getting rid of the slums, then it is a huge number; the magnitude of it itself is enough to understand that simply eradicating slums and rebuilding from scratch will never solve the issue. As of now India has very limited resources and limited time to achieve the goal, thus we need to concentrate on improving the conditions of the existing stock and build new stock. For the initial first phase there need to be a strategic approach towards the slums; it is Utopian and unachievable to look forward towards completely rebuilding each and every slum in India. A participatory approach with the community private players and experts in this field should be applied.

Conservative surgery[5]

Majorly a slum’s pressing three issues are

  1. Sanitation
  2. Basic services like water and electricity
  3. Structural safety and quality of the dwelling unit

Thus it makes complete sense to first tackle these issues.

Health-related issues are predominant in the slums, so a sanitation plan needs to be made with community participation. A multidisciplinary team [6] with the help of a community-based organization shall be involved in this process. Community knowledge can be used regarding the flooding pattern and local bottlenecks for devising an efficient servicing system without demolishing existing houses.

With a sanitation network in place, it becomes easy for laying water and electricity lines taking safety into consideration.

Structural safety and quality of dwelling units are a tricky issue. Most of the slums are self constructed, thus the best way to influence the quality of these structures is through training masons. Masons have a trust factor in these communities and imparting basic knowledge of quality construction practices and rules to them will have a big impact.

EXAMPLE: Indore and Ahmadabad have implemented a successful slum networking program (SNP), which is a partial example of a conservative surgery approach. Sharif Khan Pathan ni Chaali in Ahmadabad was one of the first few slums to be tested with SNP. Basic services and sanitation were laid with community involvement through the NGO SEWA-MHT and the work completed in 2000. After the SNP program there has been a considerable increase in investment in the improvement of the quality of the houses by slum dwellers themselves. Moreover, the quality of life has tremendously increased after the initiative.

Exposed walls show the bleak structural safety of houses in Sunder Nagari Delhi
Exposed walls show the bleak structural safety of houses in Sunder Nagari Delhi

Additional housing stock

India has a housing deficit of 25 million and 98% of this deficit is in EWS category; and with 2.07 % urban growth rate this deficit is bound to increase. Thus, there is no option but to add to the housing stock.

Subsidised houses or free houses create perverse incentives, and the repercussions are known to everyone. Instead there should be a diverse option for all the income levels and family types. Everyone need not own a house. If a person is economically weak, then there should be an affordable rental option available, rather than subsidising a house for ownership, the subsidy should go into the process of establishing affordable rental options. The new development should allow community management through the creation of cooperatives. In terms of owning a house, those who can access finance (or self-finance) can own a house directly and those who are not can also be given a choice on rent to ownership model.

In order to achieve the dream of a slum-free India, we need to be innovative and be practical in our approach. Terms like cut-off-date need to be removed and an approach based on self-selection should be developed for the slum dwellers. Initiatives should be devised, which could become a catalyst for quality improvement and any initiative should be judged through a social equity lens.

Hope we soon have better and adequate housing for all.


[1] The term ‘slum’ used throughout the article refers to urban slums as defined by Pronab Sen committee report [2010]

[2] Census [2011]

[3] This and further observations in this article on communities in slums is based on authors experience in studying slums in different parts of India.

[4] Based on study of street activity in the slums of ‘Sunder Nagari’ in Delhi and ‘Baba Lui Jhoparpatti’ in Ahmadabad by the author.

[5] Conservative surgery is an urban design methodology developed by Sir Patrick Geddes

[6] A multi disciplinary team should consists at least of (but not restricted to) architects, urban designers and planners, sociologists, Lawyers, economists and community members

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