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Salem:

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Piyush Manush and Manzoor Ali Khan at Affected region

The past few months had been of strong political movements coming from different corners of Tamil Nadu. The latest to be added to the list is the protest of environmentalists and farmers against a proposed road project of 10,000 crores to connect Chennai and Salem. These movements are of importance not just because of the cause it represents but also because of the manner in which the government is clamping down the spaces of dissent in the state. Here is all you need to know about the project and protests related to it.

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The Project

The 10,000 crore project which is termed the ‘Chennai-Salem Greenfield Corridor’ comes under central government’s Bharatmala Pariyojana. This highway project has a total investment of 5.35 lakh crores and is the single largest outlay for a government road construction scheme. The Chennai Salem highway is expected to lay a 277.30 km long road between the proposed cities. It encompasses the expansion of the Tambaram to Harur Section of NH-179B, Harur to Salem Section of NH-179A, Chengalpattu to Kancheepuram Section of NH-132B, Semmampadi to Chetpet Section of NH-179D and Polur to Tiruvannamalai Section of NH-38.mThe road will pass through the districts of Chennai, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, and Salem.

According to the NHAI report,” The idea of constructing a high-speed facility like a fully access-controlled greenfield highway has originated from the primary necessity to eliminate the bottlenecks and limitations that exist in the present corridors to reduce the travel time between Chennai–Salem. It has been felt that substantial reduction of travel time between these two districts would not only fetch direct benefits to the users due to less vehicle operating cost, passenger time saving and other intangible benefits as well.”

Response from State Government

As protests have intensified, Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswami stated that the project would continue. According to him, it is only a few farmers who are protesting as others have voluntarily agreed to provide their farmlands. According to reports, Palaniswamy also said that it is the duty of government to build roads.

He also accused that the opposition party was exaggerating the issue. “As many as 3,023 hectares were acquired for various road building purposes during the DMK regime between 2006 and 2009. But, for the Salem-Chennai eight-lane green corridor, the government is to acquire only 1,900 hectares. Of that, 400 hectares is government land and 1,100 hectares is dry land. Only 400 hectares are cultivable,” he told Assembly.

Protests

There is a wide spread protests against the proposed road mainly of environmental activists and farmers. The road according to the proposed plan would be passing through 11 reserved forests of the state. The 2791 hectares of land required for the project encompasses farmlands, residential plots, forests and community land. Though the government is providing compensation for the land they acquire the people are deeply dissatisfied. The land acquisition also took a violent turn at many places. The protesting farmers have made their stand clear that the compensation cannot be accepted as they have at stake their life and livelihood.

One of the farmers, Chandrakumar, tried self-immolation along with his family. Responding to media he said, “Compensation is not going to save our lives. What they are doing is autocratic and unjust. My one acre of land is worth Rs 50 lakhs today but for one hectare they have announced Rs 21 lakhs. For generations, we have fostered these forests. When they come at 5 am to put markers and don’t even to tell us what they are doing, I thought what is the point of living anymore? That’s why I took that decision.” However, in general, the protests have been peaceful.
Interesting to note is the fact that, the green corridor is considered to be a worthless project by many as there already exists three routes that connects both the districts. And at stake is around 100 hectares of reserved forest lands in Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri and Salem districts. When contacted by TWJ correspondent, the forest department refused to comment on the issue.

Arrests

Following the protests, there had been arrests of two activists- Valarmathi and Piyush Manush. Actor Manzoor Ali Khan was also arrested alleging ‘hate speech’. Though Mr. Manush was granted bail later, the other two were denied the same.

Responding to TWJ correspondent Students Uprising Movement for Social Welfare (SUMS) representative Dinesh said, “Operation Samadhaan which is launched to tackle the Naxal problem is used to suppress people’s movement in the state. A group of students who were distributing notices were also arrested. There is no space for political opposition. We will fight back.”

Opposition party DMK have also made it clear that they would join with the protesting farmers if the government is not taking adequate actions to address the issues.

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