After Keezhattur, protests in Malappuram against land acquisition for highway

The protesters say that the highway need not be expanded to 45 metres to make it a six-lane road.
After Keezhattur, protests in Malappuram against land acquisition for highway
After Keezhattur, protests in Malappuram against land acquisition for highway
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After protests were held in Keezhattur against the acquisition of land for the expansion of National Highway-66, scores of people in Malappuram are up in arms for the same reason.

On Friday, at AR Nagar in Vengara, people who belong to the National Highway Protection Council and the National Highway Action Council tried to stop officials from surveying the land they planned to acquire.

The police then intervened, and a clash ensued between the local residents and the police. Stones were thrown at the police, after which the police lathi-charged the protesters. A few of them sustained injuries, and some of the protesters were detained.

The protesters later blocked the Thrissur-Kozhikode road by setting vehicle tires on fire.

The survey, however, resumed after the protesters were removed by the police under tight security.

Why did the locals protest?

Dr Azad, the state vice president of the National Highway Action Council said that the people have been protesting against the widening (which seeks to expand the NH to 45 metres) primarily for three reasons — “By widening the NH as a build-operate-transfer (BoT) project, nearly 30 toll booths will come up from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram which will collect toll from Rs 80 to Rs 800. This can’t be justified as a six-lane-road can be built even if land is acquired for widening it to only 30 meters. Also, 70% of the land for widen the highway to a four-lane one had been acquired just a few years ago.”

According to Azad, a feasibility study for the widening of the road to 45 metres was conducted by state government agencies twice. The studies found that widening the NH to 45 meters won’t increase the speed on the route, nor would it increase fuel efficiency as it is not a straight road but one full of turns.

To make their case, protesters said that in 2008, when the LDF government was in power, the then Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan approached the Centre to see if it was feasible to widen the highway to 30 metres. In 2016, when the United Democratic Front was in power, the government, in an advertisement about its ambitious projects, said that the NH would be widened into a six-lane one when the highway was widened to 30 metres.

The small-scale business outlets and shops on the side of the NH would be destroyed if the government stuck to 45 meters, Azad stated.

“The land should be acquired as per the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 only after 70% of the people support it. The people should also be paid two to four times the market price of the land. But for the widening of the NH, land is acquired as per the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. Once the survey is done, a notification would come which enables the government to acquire the land, which is not fair. What should be done is rehabilitation, not eviction. This is the fourth time that the notification for the land acquisition was issued, which was a couple of weeks ago. The notification was opposed by the people all the three times it was issued,” Azad said.

Azad, however, said that it was not the widening of the NH that the people were opposing, but that when it was possible to make it a six-lane highway by it was widened to 30 metres, there was not need to widen it to 45 metres. He said that they were also against it being widened as a BoT project, which would restrict movement on a public road.

The protest at Keezhattur is also due to the same highway widening project. The protest of the Vayalkkilikal is against the filling up of paddy fields for widening the NH. They instead suggest that a flyover be built.

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