Farmers against giving up their land for setting up a Special Economic Zone
‘Vivasayigalin veezhchiyil thozhil valarchiyai enathu arasu ookkuvikkaathu endra uthiravathathai naan ungalukku alikkiren’. (I assure you that my government will not encourage industrial development at the cost of farming) — these words of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, while addressing an election meeting at Nagapattinam on March 6, 2014, have brought hopes to farmers of three villages to save their 1,500 acres of rain-fed land that are being taken over for setting up a special economic zone (SEZ).
The farmers of Sivarakottai, Karisalkalampatti and Swamimallampatti have been fighting for five years now, ever since the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government proposed to set up an industrial park on 5,000 acres of land. It shrunk to 2,500 acres and later to 1,500 acres after officials found that around 900 acres in Sengapadai village were arable. “We have been arguing that the same yardstick is applied to our land too,” M. Ramalingam of Madurai District Farmers’ Welfare Association, who has been spearheading a movement to save the farm land, said.
When the DMK government tried to bring the SEZ to Valayankulam, the AIADMK leaders made a hue and cry and the then Tirupparankundram MLA A.K. Bose ensured that the project was given up, he said. But, suddenly, the project was shifted to Sivarakottai and nearby villages.
Recalling the state of affairs prevailing at Sivarakottai village in 1920, he said that the village had been growing over 15 crops, including various pulses and millets. “One or two spells of rain is all we need to grow the crops on this fertile black cotton soil. Just before summer, farmers used to prepare the land for the crop. It is a joke that we spend huge money on hiring tractors to plough the land. If it rains two spells, we will sow gingelley seeds and make a bountiful harvest,” Mr.Ramalingam said.
A farmer, T. Azhagarsamy, said he would not give up his 10 acres of land at Karisalkalampatti. The farmer, who rears four cows and 60 goats, said his family had been farming for over nearly 10 generations. “We know no other job. There are farmers who have hundreds of cattle that are dependent only on their land,” he said.
The AIADMK Tirumangalam MLA, under whose constituency the villages come, said he had made several representations, both in writing and by raising it in the Assembly proceedings, about the farmers’ opposition.
“The Chief Minister has given a year’s time for farmers to decide on the issue. She asked the officials to give a higher price if they wished to give up their land. She wanted to reconsider the decision, under the ambit of law, if the farmers are opposed to the project. But, the farmers are divided on the issue,” he said.
Mr.Ramalingam wondered whether the registration of the land to SIPCOT, taken up after the AIADMK government came to power, was done with the knowledge of the Chief Minister. “All my attempts to get information about the status of the project are met with a stock reply that the issue was under the consideration of the government,” he said.
Stating that the government spent over Rs.40 lakh on improving the 10 waterbodies in the proposed industrial park site after the proposals were made, he wondered whether the officials were trying to help private industrial houses.
The Left parties, social activist Medha Patkar and natural farming campaigner Nammalvar opposed the industrialisation move on farmland, the home for several species of birds and wild animals.
The farmers are expecting the Chief Minister to make a favourable announcement on giving up the industrial park on the proposed site. “Farmers had voted for the AIADMK in the Assembly elections in 2011 on the promise that the project would be scrapped. We want the government to respond positively,” Mr.Ramalingam said.