After the violent protests around a copper smelter plant in Tuticorin only last month, and the Kudankulam nuclear plant protests a few years back - Tamil Nadu is in the grip of another wave of protest, this time around a proposed greenfield highway between the state capital of Chennai and Salem.
After the violent protests around a copper smelter plant in Tuticorin only last month, and the Kudankulam nuclear plant protests a few years back – Tamil Nadu is in the grip of another wave of protest, this time around a proposed greenfield highway between the state capital of Chennai and Salem. Farmers, numbering in hundreds are protesting over claims that the 277-km highway will hamper the production of rice in the regions that the proposed highway passes through. The government, so far, has not relented to the protests.
What is the protest all about?
The length of the proposed eight-lane highway which will pass through Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri, is expected to be 277-kms. The estimated Rs 9,000 crore highway will be passing through a majorly agrarian region, that produces three crops a year.
The Indian Express has reported that hundreds of farmers and several farmers’ organisations of that area have alleged that rice production will be affected in Kancheepuram and Tiruvannamalai districts if the highway actually materializes. Many have even said that the compensation offered for such fertile lands is not enough.
P Shanmugam, state secretary of the farmers’ body Tamil Nadu Vivasaigal Sangam, told IE, “These are regions that do three crops a year. Destroying these most fertile lands for constructing a highway cannot be accepted.”
“The government is offering a maximum Rs 8 lakh per acre in Tiruvannamalai when the market rate is over Rs 30 lakh; in Kancheepuram, the market rate goes up to Rs 1 crore per acre… The government is showing an unusual interest in this project without consulting or taking the consent of farmers,” he said when asked about the compensation offered.
Idea behind the project
There are already three other roads connecting Salem and Chennai, which passes through Vellore, Krishnagiri and a few other cities and towns. But due to higher than usual traffic in those roads causing delays, Chief Minister E Palaniswami wanted this road to connect the two cities directly.
“Considering the high traffic potential and importance of Salem city, I would like to suggest that a Green Express Way Corridor between Salem and Chennai cities be formed, that will substantially reduce the distance and save fuel,” the CM wrote to Union minister Nitin Gadkari in a letter on February 23. The project was approved on the same day.
What is the government saying?
The government, however, has claimed that they informed and talked with the concerned people from the villages and even invited their suggestion about the project. The report claims that “consultations were carried out with both individuals and groups during the screening survey involving local people, health workers and administrators.”
The protests have largely been peaceful till date. The villagers have reportedly removed survey stones installed by the government. A large number of people from the adjacent villages have complained about police postings in their area. Many of them have also been threatened for raising questions about the protest, two activists have already been arrested, reported the district administration of Salem.
The villagers are also planning to hoist black flags on their houses and land from June 26 onwards, and have planned to burn the government order of the project on July 6. Opposition leader of Tamil Nadu MK Stalin said that his party DMK will launch protests if the government deploys state machinery to forcefully implement the project.