CAG finds TNSCB in violation of the TN Slums Act

 

A post-eviction scene at a slum in Ennore, Chennai. Undeclared slums like this are frequently subjected to forced evictions in contravention of human rights and national and international laws. Photo Courtesy: Jacintha Chitra, Researcher, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group

“We shall see God in the smile of the Poor” reads the motto of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB). A look at the latest audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), and one imagines that the TNSCB hasn’t seen God for quite some time, for it certainly hasn’t given the poor a reason to smile.

The Comptroller and Auditor General is a constitutional body with the mandate of auditing the accounts of the central and state governments. Its Tamil Nadu State audit report for all departments under the General and Social Services category, including the Housing and Urban Development department, was tabled in the Tamil Nadu Legislative assembly on 29th September 2015. The report brings to light many serious shortcomings in the functioning of the TNSCB which was established by the Tamil Nadu Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1971 (referred to as the Slums Act) and is under the administration of the department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a three-blog series I look at the CAG’s critique of the TNSCB in its audit report. In this first blog, my focus is on the TNSCB’s non-compliance with the Slums Act as reported by the CAG.

Non-compliance with the TN Slums Act

One of the primary responsibilities of the TNSCB under the TN Slums Act is to identify and declare slums from time to time in order to “carry out works of improvement”. This is a means of ensuring the provision of basic services and to allow for investments for improvements by residents themselves in urban poor settlements that arise due to increasing migration from villages. The CAG reports that the TNSCB has failed miserably to fulfil its responsibility in letter and spirit. Not a single slum has been declared since 1985; a fact that several activists, researchers and NGOs in Chennai have bemoaned for decades. 1,202 surveyed slums were declared in Chennai 1972 following the passage of the Act. Another 17 were added to the list in 1985. Since then, despite several city-wide surveys by the TNSCB that identified new slums including the recent survey carried out as part of ‘Slum Free City Plan of Action’ under Rajiv Awaz Yojana, no slums have been notified.

Quoting the data from National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) which ascertained the existence of 2,364 slums in urban areas of Tamil Nadu, the audit report highlights that the failure of the TNSCB to notify and declare slums periodically has resulted in 49 per cent of these slums in Tamil Nadu remaining non-notified. This in turn means that all these slums are denied the basic services and amenities which the TNSCB is mandated to provide.

The CAG report observed that the TNSCB instead of focusing on its primary functions such as identification and notification of slums, and improving them, has confined itself to constructing and repairing tenements. What is most shocking in the report is a quote from the Managing Director of the TNSCB saying that it is not taking steps to notify new slums as more slums would only serve to encourage the slum dwellers to encroach upon vacant lands and claim rights over it. This highlights the insensitive nature of the officials in the TNSCB who have easily forgotten that it is the failure of the government to address the housing needs of the poor and working class that has created this problem.

Getting notified or declared as a slum by the TNSCB is a prerequisite for a slum to get access to basic services and amenities and as a result a majority of slums in Chennai are denied services such as water and sewage connections and garbage collection by government bodies such as Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board and the Greater Chennai Corporation. The TNSCB’s failure to comply with the Act to notify and declare slums is a gross injustice to slum dwellers across the city and it is detrimental to their interest as they are denied their basic human rights. In the absence of effective policies to address the ever increasing housing needs of the poor in the cities, the TNSCB’s apparent reluctance to implement even the bare minimum promised by the law for the welfare of slum dwellers is an appalling omission.

CAG in its recommendation asked the government to consider taking necessary action to notify and declare the slums. The main demand of groups working for the rights of slum dwellers in Chennai has been that the government notify slums and develop them in-situ. This recommendation made by a Constitutional body like the CAG legitimizes and strengthens our demand.

Though this recommendation was referred to the Government on August 2014, till December 2014 there was no reply from it, says the report.  The CAG’s report was tabled in the state legislative assembly on 29th September 2015 and till date there has been no response or action from the state government or the TNSCB. The government would do well to act immediately to review its policy on slums and to review the functioning of the TNSCB to make it a truly pro-poor body for whose welfare it was created.

The next blog in the series will focus on the TNSCB’s non-compliance with National Building Code norms in the implementation of Perumbakkam Resettlement Colony project as reported by the CAG audit.