TNSCB guilty of violating NBC norms in the Perumbakkam project

A view of the multistoried Perumbakkam Resettlement Colony built by Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. Photo Courtesy: Annie Divya, Researcher, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group.

In the second blog in this series on the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) Audit Report of 2014, related to the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), I focus on the shortcomings reported by the CAG in the implementation of an important housing project by the TNSCB.

The CAG audit report for the year ended March 2014, besides criticizing the TNSCB for its reported non-compliance to TN Slums Clearance and Improvement Act, also reveals a serious violation of norms by the TNSCB in implementing the Perumbakkam project.

Slum dwellers and civil society organizations in Chennai for many years now have been fighting against arbitrary evictions and relocation to TNSCB tenements built in far off places such as Kannagi Nagar and Chemmenchery. Without addressing their concerns and fears, the TNSCB has been continuing with the adverse trend of building large scale resettlement colonies in the outskirts of the city. The latest addition to the list of such completed resettlement colonies is the Perumbakkam project.

The Perumbakkam project was implemented by the TNSCB under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) to house 20,000 families living in various slums in Chennai. Though the project was officially inaugurated in March 2014, the majority of the tenements remained unoccupied till a few months ago as people in the slum areas refused to move in. The recent floods in Chennai opened a window of opportunity for the Government and it wasted no time in moving flood affected slum dwellers to these tenements under the pretext of flood rehabilitation. While doing so the government conveniently swept under the carpet the findings of the CAG audit report which indicated serious violations in the construction of these tenements. If the CAG audit report (and the fact finding reports of the civil society organizations) are to be believed the Government is risking the life of its citizens by relocating them to the Perumbakkam tenements. 

The audit report reveals that the TNSCB failed to adhere to the norms set by National Building Code of India (NBC) in the construction of housing tenements in Perumbakkam. As per the norms, the density of a housing project cannot exceed 150 dwelling units for 1 hectare of land. Accordingly, the Perumbakkam project site planned on 81.20 hectares of land can have only 12,180 dwelling units; but shockingly TNSCB proposed to construct 23,864 dwelling units with a density of 294 dwelling units per hectare, close to double of what the norms permit.  The report says that though the TNSCB budged to public criticism and 3,488 of these units were shifted to locations such as Gudapakkam, Navalur and All India Radio land, yet Perumabakkam was left with 20,376 dwelling units with a density of 251 units per hectare which is still well above the NBC norms. The report also observed that the planning of Perumbakkam project itself was defective and that resulted in the escalation of costs and delays in the completion of the project.

The findings of the CAG have come as an endorsement to the activists and researchers who have been voicing their concern over the structural defects and inadequate attention to safety in the Perumbakkam project. It was reported by Transparent Chennai that the G+7 floored tenements in Perumbakkam had narrow stairs and lacked fire exits which could become a risk to life during disasters. The gaps in safety features at the Perumbakkam resettlement colony were also exposed during the recent Chennai floods when most part of the tenements went under waist-deep water and boats were brought to rescue people. It was also widely debated that Perumbakkam suffered severe flooding for the reason that it was constructed on a floodplain. Activists also rue the appalling shortage of basic amenities at Perumbakkam resettlement colony. For example, a rapid assessment carried out by Transparent Cities Network in October 2015 revealed that the area lacked even the basic facilities such as schools, primary health care centres, ration shops and public transportation.

It is evident from the CAG report and civil society assessments that the Perumbakkam project is fraught with defects that will not only affect the people’s quality of life but actually endanger their life. One would hope that the CAG report would wake the government up to this reality and make it reconsider its move to relocate slum dwellers to this ill-conceived resettlement colony before an untoward event. Instead, the Government would do well to act upon the recommendations given in the CAG report to immediately notify the slum areas which for years remained neglected and develop in-situ housing and services for the poor, safeguarding their lives and livelihoods.    

The final blog in the series will focus on how the TNSCB’s lackadaisical attitude cost the city two important in-situ development projects for housing the poor.