Land allotted to evictees of Vallarpadam Terminal is uninhabitable

Cranes at the Vallarpadam Terminal. Credit: Wikipedia/Augustus Binu
Cranes at the Vallarpadam Terminal. Credit: Wikipedia/Augustus Binu

Land allotted to villagers evicted from Kerala’s Ernakulam district, India, in 2008 for the construction of the International Container Transhipment Terminal in Vallarpadam, operated by DP World and part of Cochin port, is uninhabitable. The News Minute reports that a people’s inquiry commission headed by Justice K Sukumaran has observed that prima facie the land is unsuitable for construction, negating the possibility of housing settlements in the area allotted.

The process has been fraught with difficulty for the 316 families evicted from Mulavukad, Cheranalloor, Eloor, Kadungaloor Edappally north, Edappally south, and Kadamakuddy (Moolampilly), who began protests against this enforced resettlement in 2005. The evictions were carried out as per the Land Acquisition Act 1894, which provided the evictees meagre compensation far below the market price of their land. When families protested in 2005, the government responded by promising each family six cents of land, a job for each member of the family, and a sum of INR5,000 (USD70) for each family for the first 10 months as a housing allowance, along with a lump sum of INR10,000 as shifting charges as a compensatory offer (popularly dubbed the ‘Moolampilly Order package’) in 2008.

However, neither has materialised. Following the 2009 order by the High Court, the land allotted by the government should be ‘A’ class, which is suitable for the construction of a two-storey building for each family. However, Francis Kalathunkal, general convener of the co-ordination committee of Moolampilly, noted that despite the government not questioning the verdict, these guidelines have not been followed during the allocation of land.

Residents say that some of the land assigned falls within the coastal regulation zone where construction is prohibited, while others are assigned on marshy land where building structures are not supported. Six of the seven sites designated for rehabilitation fall on filled land, while two sites inspected by the Public Works Department were declared to be unsuitable as the soil was loose and there was blackish slush beneath the top soil.

Buildings constructed in Thuthiyoor were slanted in the marshy land, and residents complained that water and mud would overflow into their houses during India’s powerful monsoons. Kalathunkal notes that of three houses built, all of them have “cracks in the floors and their walls are slanting”.

Given these concerns, families are loath to invest their savings into construction on these plots. Kalathunkal notes that even if evictees had chosen to proceed with construction, it was rarely financially viable. “Title deeds of their plots are non-transferable for 25 years and hence financial institutions are not lending against them. Besides, the government had not given any financial assistance for housing except for a nominal compensation for structures taken over,” he said.

Furthermore, evictees who were given INR5,000 per month as housing allowance for rent had this denied as of January 2013 under the presumption that land has been assigned for the construction of housing. However, families cite the continued need to reside in temporary housing or rented accommodation as not only is the construction is ongoing, but the land is unsuitable and the structures are unsafe for long-term stay. Moreover, although evictees were promised with compensatory skill-based jobs, these have yet to materialise despite many having undergone the training.

The Hindu reports that 268 out of the 316 families had yet to be rehabilitated in 2018 and 22 evictees have died or committed suicide since their eviction in 2008.

The terminal has been in operation since 2011.