Chennai Salem Expressway: TN farmers reject compensation, call it an ‘eyewash’

Salem District Collector Rohini Bhajibhakare announced compensation for the land acquisition on Friday.
Chennai Salem Expressway: TN farmers reject compensation, call it an ‘eyewash’
Chennai Salem Expressway: TN farmers reject compensation, call it an ‘eyewash’
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Hours after Salem District Collector Rohini Bhajibhakare announced compensation for the land acquisition for the Chennai-Salem Expressway, the farmers that are hit by the proposed land acquisition have rejected the compensation.

At a press conference on Friday, Salem Collector Rohini said, “The district administration is taking all the steps to compensate farmers to their satisfaction along with a suitable relief and rehabilitation plan for them. The compensation provided will not just be for the land. We will pay for structures on the land too like all the trees, wells, houses and cow sheds.”

Announcing compensation for their losses, the Collector said, “As per provisions of Land Acquisition Act and the guideline value, there is scope for farmers getting compensation anywhere between Rs 21.5 lakh to Rs 9.05 crores per hectare. Till yesterday, the preliminary measurement for the road has been done for 17 kms. 126 hectares of land belonging to 853 patta owners has been measured for this road.”

However, the administration’s move has been rejected by farmers who claim that neither the money nor their words are any compensation for their potential loss of livelihood.

Speaking to TNM, Sivagami, a farmer from the Ramalingapuram village says, “One acre itself is Rs 8 lakh. Only for 15 and 20-year-old trees they are saying they will give Rs 18,000. This is an eyewash. As it is we have been affected by the previous four laning on the existing route. We were fooled for that. First, they said they will give Rs 8 lakhs, then they said they will give the balance amount. We had to run from pillar to post for that. The four-lane itself is not complete. There are many places where it is only a two-lane. They have enough land to extend the existing route. All of Ramalingapuram is getting destroyed. Newly built houses, schools are getting destroyed. Every year the school students are scoring 100 percent pass percentage. Have they said where this school will be shifted? The temple is being destroyed.”

With a slew of arrests against those who have spoken up against the project, Sivagami too alleges that voices of dissent have been suppressed.

“Ask the tahsildar and Revenue Divisional Officer to come and talk to us. Ask the Collector to come to the people and tell us. How can we believe them? This is not for the people. If it is for the people, we will give way for it. What is the need to do it so quickly? If it is for the people, they can explain to us. Last month they said we could raise objections. But by the time we submitted our objections, they have laid markers. There is so much police protection and buses to take us away if we open our mouths,” she slams.

Sivagami’s friend, Jamuna is a daily wage labourer whose husband was immobilised following an accident. With a college-going son and daughter, she fears that she would fall into a debt trap.

She says, “My 1200 sq ft house is the only place where we can live. My husband worked as a lorry driver. He met with an accident and cannot walk now. Both my children go to college. I have to feed four mouths with my income as a daily wage labourer. We have a Rs 6 lakh loan for the lorry. How can I pay their fees with the money they are giving? I have to take a loan every semester for that as well. For the cost to living today, none of this is enough. Moreover, who will marry my daughter if we don’t even have a house? As it is I am taking care of my husband’s health, my children’s education. Now I have to fear for the roof over my head as well.”

When asked about objections to the land acquisition, the Collector said, “People who are expressing opposition for the road are just 1% of the total number of farmers.”

Chandrakumar, a farmer, along with his family attempted to immolate themselves when their demands for answer fell on deaf ears on Wednesday.

Speaking to TNM, he says, “We can’t live with their compensation. Every tree, every soil has all our life and hard work in it. 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. They are putting cases on us for talking about our land. If they honestly can show us how this benefits the people, we will give up and go away. But this is unnecessary. Their own report says so.”

Agreeing with him, Aiyadurai who also stands to lose three acres of his land, slams, “Those who gave up their lands for the Salem steel plant and NH69 are still waiting in line at the court to get their compensation. They are demanding our livelihood for the benefit of corporates.”

(With inputs from Megha Kaveri)

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