15% Damage? – A Photo Essay on Vizag post-Hudhud
Post by Indivar Jonnalagadda. Photographs clicked during fieldwork done in Visakhapatnam for a project on Housing Rights. Fieldwork conducted between 12th-22nd November 2014.
One month has passed by since the devastating cyclone Hudhud and life in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) has seemingly regained ‘normalcy’. However wherever one looks, one finds unmistakable signs of Hudhud. Most visibly in Vizag’s slums.
With the recent separation of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states, Visakhapatnam is now the largest city in the new Andhra Pradesh state. Although it has not been strongly considered to be the future capital of the new state, it will play a major role in the future of the state. There have been announcements that Vizag will be made into a ‘smart city’.
Vizag has the reputation of being the fastest growing city in India. It has roughly doubled in population with every passing decade. The growth of the city has been fuelled firstly, by the port established by the British in colonial times and then, by the rise of heavy industries set up by the Indian government. In recent times, Vizag has also seen some growth in the IT sector and the rise of other commercial enterprises. This growth resulted in a steady stream of migrants coming in from the neighbouring regions attracted by the work opportunities in large industries and the international port and also the work opportunities presented by the growing middle-class population which demanded more construction and domestic workers. Over the years, these incoming migrants have settled on government lands owned by the railways, the port and some owned by the municipal corporation. Many slums have also emerged on the slopes of the hills that surround Vizag.
Most of Vizag’s slums, however, are not notified. Slums across Vizag are caught up in long-standing land-disputes. There have been some attempts to resolve these disputes and some progressive initiatives to acquire land for the poor, but most of them have been arrested in various ways. As a result, the residents do not have any formal documents to support their claim on the land. Although they have ration cards, voter cards, AADHAAR cards and every other kind of card. In addition, slum relocation has been quite common across Vizag. All these factors have meant that most of the slum-dwellers in Vizag still live in kutcha houses, built with palm leaves or tarpaulin and in some cases asbestos sheets. Some people have managed to build brick walls, but they are a minority. The kutcha houses, particularly with kutcha roofs, have persisted also because of government intolerance to slum-dwellers building what are called slab-roofs on the grounds that they do not have a possession right. (A right that the government has refused to grant them despite demands made over decades)
When Hudhud struck, the slum-dwellers had to be evacuated to schools or other such buildings for shelter. When they returned it was to destroyed homes. In their own words, “This cyclone tore the roof off of the airport. You can imagine what happened to our kutcha roofs”. Subsequently, a survey was undertaken to take stock of the damage suffered. To say that this survey was farcical would be an understatement.
Several meetings and dharnas have been taking place in Vizag since the cyclone and the survey of damage in slums has become a subject of much outrage. One number that is often quoted in these meetings is “15%”. I understood the significance of this number when I saw a copy of the tabulated data from the survey. The one i saw pertained to Indira Gandhi Colony and claims that every household in this slum has been “partially damaged, with at least 15% damaged/destroyed”. Even I found this absurd because one month after the cyclone I still came across totally destroyed houses in this slum. The table had a separate column for “description” which was conveniently left blank across the table. I visited a handful of slums apart from Indira Gandhi Colony and also spoke to people from other slums, all of whom said that the survey for their slum read the same, “partially damaged, with at least 15% damaged”.
The outrage felt by these people is partially owing to the fact that the survey findings would determine the amount of monetary aid they receive from the government to re-build their houses. Rumour has it that 15% would entail 5000 rupees. This amount would hardly cover the cost of asbestos sheets for the roof, which cost anything from 550-750 per sheet. Besides, even this 5000 hasn’t reached the slum households. They have received no aid in re-building their houses. The outrage is aggravated by the government’s repeated claims of “emerging victorious against the cyclone” and the great work it has done. The slum-dwellers feel like they have been short-changed in a situation where even the trees on Vizag’s beach road have benefited.
With no insurance to cover their damages, slum households have either refurbished their houses using large tarpaulin sheets donated by NGOs and environmental groups, or by building new makeshift shelters using these sheets, abandoning their destroyed home for the time-being.
Hudhud has starkly brought into relief the vulnerability of slum-dwellers in Vizag.
Consequently, groups working on housing rights in Vizag have been strongly asserting the demand for granting these slum households a right of possession and allowing them to build pakka houses.
The following photo-essay, will present some of the scenes of destruction that I encountered during my visit to Vizag one month after the cyclone. Scenes that plainly contradict the 15 % damage claim in the surveys conducted by the Government.
Indira Gandhi Colony
ASR Nagar (Chenchu Colony)
Mutyamamba Colony (Chakali Gedda)
Ambedkar Nagar (Chinna Musidivada)
Ex-Serviceman Colony (Malkapuram)
On 17th November there was a dharna organized to demand the government to not only allow construction of pakka houses, but also fund it. At this dharna, there were several hundreds of people from slums all across Vizag. Many of them had come with photographs as evidence of the damages they had suffered. The photographs below were being carried around by a man from Malkapuram. He showed them to me thinking I was from the press.
Swatantra Nagar (Madhurawada) – A sign of things to come?
On 20th November 2014, a Zonal Commissioner was passing by Swatantra Nagar when she noticed a house being built with pakka walls and a pakka roof. Few hours later, 20 people including GVMC men and the police came and starting breaking down the structure with hammers and other tools. A violent confrontation ensued when people from the colony tried to stop the demolition. The message of the GVMC was clear, “You do not have the right to build a pakka house.”