ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Post-Tsunami Housing in Tamil Nadu

The tsunami relief effort was based on the recognition that out of disaster an opportunity can be created to rebuild, expand and improve upon services, correct imbalances and meet the needs of vulnerable groups. But in housing, this case study from Tamil Nadu shows that even three years after the disaster, a large proportion of the affected continue to live in temporary shelters. Apart from analysing the post-tsunami shelter and settlement strategy of Tamil Nadu government, this article also deals with the critical issues in the construction of permanent houses.

Update on the tsunami-related activities in Tamil Nadu, as on June 30, 2007 (


for putting up a hut as a temporary measure”

TSUNAMI REHABILITATIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200841in better conditions sent their children, particularly the girls to ensure their safety. In some instances, the entire family rented houses elsewhere, visiting their shelters only when reliefs were distributed.(3) Living in the 10 ft by 10 ft space, all activities including cooking had to be carried out within the four tarred parti-tions, and with each household storing dozens of liters of kerosene provided as part of relief inside their “rooms” resulted in serious fire accidents. According to the district fire and rescue department statistics, in 2004, in Nagapattinam municipality, recorded fire calls were 64 only. In 2005, it increased to 119, out of which three major fire accidents took place in shelters for tsunami victims and in 2006, out of 117 total fire calls, again three major fire accidents were in the shelters. (4) In its rush towards moving people from the relief camps, the government failed totake a pragmatic assessment over the duration the people would need to reside in these “temporary” shelters. Given the large number of affected families, it was clear from the beginning, the task of con-structing permanent houses for the affected would take some time, and hence, there was a need to construct a dwelling that would withstand a minimum of one year at the least. In reality, the design and con-struction of the shelters were so poor that within six months of their construction, an additional sum of Rs 2,000 had to be allocated for repair of the shelters. (5) In constructing these temporary shel-ters, the government failed to assess how far these shelters would reduce the vul-nerability of the people in case of future problems. For instance, selection of low-lying land for construction resulted in most of the shelters submerging in the monsoon rains that followed within three months of their construction, forcing peo-ple to look for another place of accommo-dation. Since then this has become a regu-lar feature of the rainy season for those still residing in them.The provision of temporary shelters in fact created a barrack kind of forced living together and ghettoisation of the tsunami victims for the convenience of the govern-ment, where in the name of temporary shelters what was achieved was nothing but deliberate slums.2.3 From Transitional to Permanent HousesVery shortly after the disaster, to plan for permanent dwellings, the government of Tamil Nadu, under the concept of “public-private partnership”, came up with an idea of “comprehensive village adoption scheme” and invited interested parties to engage in the recovery process. Originally, the gov-ernment plan envisioned housing to be an integral aspect of overall collective reco-very process but later, on the basis of feed-back from the NGOs, two models were proposed for housing reconstruction.Comprehensive Village Development Model: Based on their capacity, public sector enterprises,NGOs and corporate houses could choose any habitation or habitations with a minimum of 50 fami-lies. The agency bringing in the funds could associate with a facilitating and/or technical support organisation with good credentials and once such proposal for habitation(s) had been identified and accepted by the collector, the deemed final authority, the proposal would be given to the concerned village panchayat, who would then pass a resolution accepting the same. Any project proposal to be eligible to be considered under this scheme had to be above Rs 75 lakh (for 50 families) covering the various components of the project. Village Self-sufficiency Scheme: Follow-ing this government order, severalNGOs expressed their inability to contribute the minimum investment levels prescribed and it was resolved that such requests could be considered under the village self-sufficiency scheme model already under implementation by the rural development department. Thus, projects with invest-ment below the limit of Rs 75 lakh for housing plus infrastructure were to be permitted under the villages self-sufficiency scheme which envisaged 100 per cent public contribution. Land:The enumeration of loss of houses was carried out by the local revenue offi-cials on the basis of ration card and receipt of house taxes. Based on the beneficiary list, the government came up with a plan of acquiring land and then handed it over to the NGOs for house construction. As per the clause 4 of the MOU, the GoTN was to provide the land required free of cost to theNGOs, with the ownership vesting with the government which reserved the right to transfer the ownership of the land to the victims in such manner and at such time as it deemed fit.In relation to land, two approaches were followed towards permanent shelter construction. In the village reconstruction “in situ”, the construction was made in the same place as in the original situation prior to the disaster. In the “exnihilo” approach, the full village was relocated and reconstructed on a new site. The advantage of the latter was that it did not require the removal of rubbles and thereconstruction plan was not con-strained by buildings that survived the disasters. This kind of resettlement is known to constitute a traumatic socio-cultural experience impacting negatively on people’s lives and sense of well-being.The government calculated the extant of land required to carry such reconstruc-tion to be around 648.249 hectares in 206 locations. It proposed to acquire land from four categories, viz, government ‘porom-boke’ (wasteland) lands; private lands; temple lands; and in situ land. The gov-ernment was successful in acquiring around 96 per cent of required land at the cost of approximately, Rs 40 crore. Out of the total land acquired, 68.6 per cent was private land and interestingly, only 12.5 per cent of land for reconstruction of houses was from in situ land. Any land acquisition by the government would normally come under the purview of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Under this act, it is mandatory to pay compensa-tion for the land acquisition to 142 per cent in one year, which includes 100 per cent land value, 30 per cent solatium and 12 per cent additional market value per annum with the additional compensation for re-habilitating the dispossessed. Further, be-fore tsunami, the district level committee was conferred with powers for approval of negotiated price up to Rs 20 lakh, where the land value was equal to or less than 150 per cent of the market value or guideline values whichever was lower. However, with the issuance of GO Ms No 75, dated February 10, 2005, the government opted to acquire land for tsunami housing

Update on the tsunami-related activities in Tamil Nadu, as on June 30, 2007 (

TSUNAMI REHABILITATIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200843to increase in the dropout rates in schools. Many of the new habitations fall under a different ward of municipal limit (in urban areas) or a different panchayat (in rural areas). Due to a total lack of policy direction till date, this has created problems in providing important services such as immunisation.Conflict Resolution: The disaster induced social mobility which disrupted traditional patterns of hierarchy such as fishing labourers and boat owners; kutcha house owner and pucca house owner, etc, and led to a social levelling process which created conflicts. This dissonance re-flected in the construction of houses. ‘Nattar panchayats’, the indigenous system of governance, tried to create consensus to balance the varied interests within the community. In the housing reconstruction process, such panchayats mobilised ade-quate local funds from individuals, bought land collectively and persuaded the NGOs to construct houses for those who did not come in the list of vulnerable people or people from vulnerable regions but were members of the vulnerable community. The role played by nattar panchayats of Sonankuppam, Singarathoppu and Akka-rikori in Cuddalore district are exemplary in consensus building among different in-terests groups in these villages. On the other hand, both the government and theNGOs while claiming to have ensured, perhaps with a conundrum – “wherever possible”, community participation at every stage of recovery process, made little attempts to bring about community involvement. This individualistic approach created further social cleavage which resulted in conflicts in post disaster scenario. In fact, someNGOs, as agents of social levelling, viewed the social upheaval as an opportunity to create social equality and considered conflicts as inevitable by-product of this process.Vulnerability Dilution: While the victim compensationpredominantly concentrated on the tsunami affected, in view of future calamities, the government later incorpo-rated vulnerable regions into their policy planning. The criterion thus changed from specific vulnerability of the dwelling units to vulnerability of the place, where the dwelling units were located, which was defined in terms of houses located within 200 metres and the free houses construct-ed more than 10 years ago by the govern-ment located at 300 to 1,000 metres from the high tide line(GoTN, GO, Ms No 575, dated January 29, 2007). This policy of bringing 1,000 metre boundary line into the policy added substance to a suspicion among the fishing community that it was a deliberate attempt on the part of the gov-ernment to bring in non-fishing communi-ties into the beneficiary list even as they deprived the legitimate claims of the vul-nerable fisherfolk.Property Rights: The tsunami affected coastal areas of Tamil Nadu have an intri-cate web of property rights particularly in entitlement to land and in land tenure. The disaster has posed serious problems to existing property rights. Using the category of coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification, passed in the early 1990s, the dwellings in pre-disaster period were demarcated. Residents in those houses which fell within the 200 metre from the high tide line were given the choice of moving from their original sites to a safer area at some distance; the government would allocate them land on which the NGOs would construct houses for them. For those opting to move out of their original habitation, the owners were to hand over their houses along with the land to the government and forfeit any legal claim over either the house or the land.If, on the other hand, the family chose to reside in their original habitation, then the particular household was to generate itsown funds for construction as they could not avail of any of the government relief measures. While such relocation was stated to be with the aim of moving people to safer areas, without any clear statement on how the government planned to prevent future utilisation of the land that the people vacated raises apprehensions about the loss of the community’s asset. Doubts on the intentions of the govern-ment in this matter were further compound-ed by the notification of the new coastal zone management rules in 2007, almost three years after the tsunami. In this regu-lation, while there is no guarantee of tradi-tional rights to fisher communities over the use of coastal land, its use for “undefined categories such as beach tourism and water sport facilities” have been included [Menon et al 2007]. This has confirmed people’s suspicions that land in coastal areas is being freed for commercial purposes. The Tamil Nadu Patta Passbook Act 1983 provides for the issue of patta pass-books for all agricultural lands as well as lands where houses have been constructed throughout Tamil Nadu. Possession of patta passbook is essential for sale, mortgage, gift, settlement, getting loan and financial assistance from banks and financial insti-tutions. While those who have surren-dered their house and land in the original habitation have received the pattas, the others who have constructed their houses in situ, within 200-500 metre zone, have not been provided pattas for their land. This gives them possession rights, but not legal rights. 4 ConclusionsThe tsunami relief effort was based on the recognition that out of disaster an opportu-nity can be created to build back better, ex-pand and improve upon services, correct im-balances and meet the needs of vulnerable groups. However, with regard to housing, the outcome has woefully fallen short of the goal as this case study from Tamil Nadu shows. Even three years after the disaster, a large proportion of the affected continue to live in “temporary” shelters or in inade-quate “permanent” houses. Further, the mass displacement and the subsequent new settlement strategies have created an unexpected opportunity for the state to administer, manage and restructure land and property rights which has resulted in the dislocation of fisher community from their traditional land posing a serious threat to their livelihood and well-being. ReferencesBarenstein, Jennifer Duyne (2005): A Comparative Analysis of Six Housing Reconstruction Ap-proaches in Post-Earthquake Gujarat, (1998): National Housing and Habitat Policy, Ministry of Urban Development. GoTN (2007): Update on the Tsunami-Related Activi-ties in Tamil Nadu, as on June 30, 2007, http://, M, S Rodriguez and A Sridhar (2007): ‘Coastal Zone Management Notification ’07 – Better or Bitter Fare?’ produced for the Post-Tsunami Envi-ronment Initiative Project, ATREE, Bangalore.United Nations (2006): ‘Exploring Key Changes and Development in Post-Disaster Settlement, Shelter and Housing, 1982-2006’, OCHA/ESB/2006/6.

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