570 Farmers Petition Against Salem-Chennai Expressway, Know Why Farmers Are Protesting
The greenfield Salem-Chennai expressway project has seen some major backlash from not only the state’s farmers but from environmentalists as well. So much so that 570 farmers in Tiruvannamalai district have petitioned against the proposed project, reported the Times Of India.
What is the Salem-Chennai Expressway Project?
The Rs 10,000 crore proposed highway is a part of the Bharatmala project. The 277.3 km eight-lane highway which connects Salem with Chennai is supposedly going to cut considerable travel time between the two cities. It is centrally funded and comes under Bharatmala Pariyojana which aims at improving connectivity infrastructure. This corridor will begin in Ariyanur in Salem and end in Vandalur, near Chennai. It will pass through the districts of Salem (36.3 km), Dharmapuri (56 km), Krishnagiri (two km), Tiruvannamalai (123.9 km) and Kancheepuram (59.1 km). Additionally, the project will cut across 159 villages as well.
Apart from these, there are eight other projects in the pipeline, after the completion of which Tamil Nadu will get 570 km of new roads. According to The News Minute, Rs 43,000 crores of funds for the project were released in February 2018.
A heavy backlash
Even though these proposed projects might appear to be a progressive move aimed at developing road transport infrastructure, there is more than one downside associated with the construction of these corridors. The Salem-Chennai project has received massive backlash from farmers whose lands fall along the 277 km-long stretch. The atrocity does not end with the woes of the farmers alone, the expressway is to pass through 11 reserved forests and will require about 2791 hectares of land.
According to the report of Minutes of 189th meeting, 6,400 trees are to be cut for the proposed road. Considering the fact that the report only talks about 13 kms of land that will be affected, deforestation of only 6,400 trees is a gross understatement.
However, more than the environmental impacts, the glaring problem is that of the thousands of farmers who will be affected by the proposed project. It is essential to understand that farming is not a first generation job. The land that these farmers work on is all that they have for generations at a stretch. One point of contention for the farmers on the stretch of the proposed expressway is that of compensation for the land. For most, if not all farmers, the trees or crops that grow on their farmlands are the only means of their livelihood.
Media reports have aptly brought to the forefront, the dismal condition of the farmers who fear losing their farmlands. Not only that, but the compensation for these acquired farmlands is meagre. The NDTV quoted a local farmer as saying that they are being given only Rs eight thousand for an acre of land, whereas, an acre of land in those parts cost Rs one lakh.
State action against protestors
What started out as a small landowners protest has now become a full-blown movement after the police arrested activists and farmers. Earlier in June, the police had arrested 20 villagers for protesting against the Salem-Chennai expressway. A large number of villagers along the stretch had complained that the police are camping at their village and when they protested against the same, the Tamil Nadu government was seen taking a zero-tolerance policy towards the protestors, reported The Hindu.
Nityananda Jayaraman, a Chennai-based researcher and writer, took to Facebook to show the plight of the women in the villages who were protesting against the survey of the proposed expressway in their village.
GoTN respects farmers. See how. Salem district. 8-lane highway survey in progress.
Posted by Nityanand Jayaraman on Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Police action does not end with the villagers, but student activist Valarmathi was also arrested in June after she disrupted a meeting of revenue officers and police officials with the villagers for the Salem-Chennai highway. Along with her, activist Piyush Manush was also arrested by the police whereas actor Mansoor Ali Khan was detained. The Times Of India reported that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) even threatened to launch protests in support of the villagers who were arrested.