Karimadom awaits better days

Shanavas had an inviting smile on his face. He was sitting on a bench on the verandah of the community hall with the newspaper in his hand. The 65 year old man lives in one of the flats built by the Corporation replacing the old dilapidated houses in the Karimadom colony of the Manacuad ward in the capital city of Kerala, Trivandrum.

The colony is near the famous Chalai Market which is a commercial centre in the East Fort area. Most of the people here work in the market as does Shanavas’s son in-law who lives with his wife and children in this community hall which is a temporary shelter for those whose houses are being constructed.

Shanavas, who runs a pan shop on the side of the Attukalkulangara  bypass road, seemed to be knowledgeable on the issues of the colony as he started throwing light on the history of the redevelopment project of Karimadom. In 2008, the Corporation came up with the plan to redevelop the colony under the centrally funded Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme. The plan was to rehabilitate about 560 families from old huts to flats built by the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD).

World famous architect Laurie Baker derived the concept for the cost effective design layout that creates several interactive community spaces in between building blocks by a staggered arrangement. There are 20 houses in one flat like structure. Each house has a hall, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. As of now, 8 flats have been completed occupied by 160 families.

Shanavas is not critical of COSTFORD’s construction methods but as a person who was part of the members of the colony who were shown the proposal before the works started, he feels that the constructed houses leave a lot to be desired when compared with the proposed plans. The lack of proper chimneys seems to be a concern to him. The Corporation had received Rs. 20,000 from each of the families beforehand according to Shanavas.

The community hall is home to about 49 families now. 30 residents live in the first floor while 19 are in the ground floor. A small room often accommodates more than one family. The rooms are divided with plywood. But the real problem are toilet facilities. A toilet block was constructed with four public toilets but often in the morning people are made to wait a lot of time to get to use them.

Last year, a community kitchen was inaugurated in the colony. It has only four stoves. The residents queue from the morning itself to use these. Frustrated by the long waits, some people have given up on this kitchen and started cooking outside the hall on their own.

After the old huts were removed, most of the families had to go out and find transit accommodation till the works of the flats were completed. This created a challenge for many as they found the rents outside for a decent living space not within their financial capacity. The lowest rent is as high as 8,000 rupees in the nearby area.

Biju, an auto-rickshaw driver explained the problem. “The main issue was finding a place where we can stay close to the city and at the same time not spend heavily for the rent.” He now lives in the outskirts of the city in a place called Pallichal which is 11 Km away, for a rent of 3000 Rs. “Most of the people who had to go far away from the city now find it difficult to come to their work places and also to get their children to schools.”

Ashok Kumar, a member of the Cluster Development Committee (CDC), formed to work along with the Corporation to improve the facilities at the colony shares his feelings. “We have no complaints with the Corporation’s project to rehabilitate us with better living conditions but the issue is with the speed of the development works. It’s been almost 7 years since the Corporation has started with the project and only a few people have been moved to new houses till now,” said Ashok showing the progress or the lack of it of the current phase of work for which even piling has not been completed.

Ashok who is a carpenter has his shop near the community hall in which he resides with his wife and two children. Though Ashok admitted that there are no issues of water supply as there is an uninterrupted supply of Corporation water, there is always a chance of the water getting contaminated. A sewage drain runs through the length of the colony. Much of the garbage dumping is done in the drains or in the Thekkenekara canal, which flows behind the colony. The rainy season is a nightmare for the people here as these canals and drains carrying a large part of the city’s garbage overflow.

It is not as if they have not presented their case to the authorities on this matter. Ashok, who was also the Secretary of the Resident’s Association, said that they had raised this issue multiple times with the Corporation and at once took their protest to the next level by blocking all the entrance points from the canal to the colony so that during last monsoon, the water overflowed to the Highway on the other side causing heavy traffic issues. This prompted the collector to call the colony residents for an emergency meeting and the collector promised them to resolve the garbage issue before the next rain season.

To tackle the health problems caused by these unhygienic surroundings, an Urban Primary Health Care Centre (UPHC) was established in October 2014 at Karimadom, the first of its kind in Kerala. It is part of a program called Urban Slum Health Upliftment Scheme (USHUS) which aims to improve the health of thousands of people living in slums in the state. Urban Slum Health Activists (USHA) are employed as per this scheme in these areas to provide medical services to the local people. The project envisages medical camps, epidemic-prevention activities, service of mobile medical groups and preventive injections. Treatment will be free and medicines will be provided free of cost.

Anumol, who is a Junior Public Health (JPH) nurse, says that the response of the colony people has been positive to the initiatives by the health centre. “As JPH nurses, we visit 20 blocks in one month and make the public aware of health issues and make them understand the need for keeping the environment clean to avoid diseases. We also make sure that vaccinations are done at the right time for children.”

Anumol says that a lot of Tuberculosis patients are there in the area. Other common ailments are Filaria and Leprosy. Anyway, the focus on healthcare seems to have a positive impact on the people’s mindset. More people are attending the medical camps and pregnant women are registering their names more than ever before. A child health care centre under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) also operates in the area. It conducts regular immunization programs for children.

Ashok who has been involved with the communication with the Corporation from the very start feels that one reason for the delay in construction is the cost escalation of building materials and labour.

As per the initial estimation, the cost for a building block consisting of 20 houses was Rs.34 lakh. But when four such blocks were completed as part of the first phase of the project in 2010, each of them cost Rs.64 lakh. By the time the second phase consisting of three blocks was completed in 2011-12, the cost had risen to Rs.78 lakh.

Palayam Rajan, who is the chairperson of the Karimadom Colony Welfare Standing Committee at the Corporation said that the third-phase costs could touch Rs.1 crore. But no change was possible to the Detailed Project Report (DPR) which was approved in 2007, and anything above Rs.34 lakh a block would have to be paid from the Corporation’s own funds.  The major item adding to the cost escalation is the rising cost of building materials.

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