Farmers in Coimbatore are protesting against the plans to acquire fertile farmlands to lay a new greenfield bypass road. The farmers are set to lose around 3,000 acres for the projects carried out by the Union and state governments. The area is known for coconut, banana and other cash crop cultivation.
The farmers have accused the governments and highways department of refusing to widen the existing road for which land acquisition was completed much earlier. The proposed new bypass will reduce a paltry 6 km distance for which 3,000 acres are proposed to be acquired at a project cost of Rs 2,500 crores.
The farmers have accused the concerned departments of not holding the public hearings to raise the concerns, while those who oppose the mass destruction of natural fertile lands are branded as anti-development.
A massive protest was led by PR Natarajan, member of parliament (MP) representing the Coimbatore constituency, on April 17, while the farmers have been opposing the project announcement since 2018. The protest was organised by all farmers' organisations in the Coimbatore district.
3000 ACRES TO REDUCE MERE 6 KM
The National Highways of India (NHAI) has planned to lay a new bypass road to connect Coimbatore and Karur at an estimated cost of Rs 2,500 crores between Kurumbapalayam and Sathyamangalam. An estimated 3,000 acres of land from Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Karur districts is planned to be acquired for the 'greenfield' road aimed at reducing the travel time and distance.
The residents and farmers of the region depend on agriculture for their living, which is put under threat now.
"The land under consideration is a very fertile land where agriculture has been practised for several decades. Whenever a new project is announced, the farmers are the first to be called upon to sacrifice their lands for development," said VR Palanisamy, Coimbatore district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, the state unit of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
The farmers have pointed out the availability of sufficient acquired land in the existing road connecting Karur and Coimbatore.
"The existing road can be easily widened and converted into a four-lane or even six-lane road by using the already acquired land and construction of two to three overbridges enroute. It's highly foolish to use fertile agricultural lands for road construction," Palanisamy said.
The farmers and Natarajan claimed that the NHAI officials had informed them that the travel distance would be reduced by 6 km with the newly planned bypass road.
"What is the need to spend so much money and damage 3,000 acres of fertile land to reduce the travel distance by 6kms? If the aim is to reduce travel time, widen the existing roads, which requires minimum earth materials and investment," Natarajan said while addressing the protest.
WHY SHOULD FARMERS BE AT THE RECEIVING END?
The farmers accuse the authorities of not holding public hearings on such important projects to convey information to all stakeholders.
"The meetings were a mere formality as most of the farmers set to lose lands were not informed for the hearing. Even if the meetings were held, the authorities inform us that they can only register our opinion and are not empowered to act on the demands raised," Palaniswamy said.
The farmers also question the process for holding public hearings and compensation being stacked in favour of the state and not in favour of those getting affected.
"Whenever a new project is announced by the state or Union government, they call upon the farmers to sacrifice the land for development. Farmers in Tamil Nadu are affected by projects like GAIL pipelines and overhead high tension lines. We are not against any development projects, but we have to save the farmers and agriculture for our needs. What will the farmers do after sacrificing their land?" asked Natarajan.
Apart from farmers, several small-scale industries in the region are set to be affected by the land acquisition, while several residential areas also face similar threats.
"The compensation paid for land acquired per the laws is much lower than the market value. The farmers cannot purchase similar land in other places to follow similar agricultural practices, including irrigation facilities. Thousands of agricultural labourers will also lose their jobs if agricultural lands are lost," Palanisamy said.
The farmers have resolved to intensify the protest with the demand of widening the existing road, which is more feasible than the proposed greenfield road affecting agricultural lands.