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Farmers, whose paddy fields will be filled to accommodate the construction, have been protesting for four months now.

Keezhattur protests Green NGO proposes alternative route for contentious bypassImage courtesy: Mohan SK
news Protest Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 18:14

For the last four months, farmers, led by Suresh Keezhattur, in Kannur’s Keezhattur have been protesting against the government’s plans to take over their paddy fields to build the Thalassery Bypass Project.

The agitation led by the group of farmers named 'Vayalkkilikal' (paddy birds) came into focus after a group of people, reportedly belonging to Communist Party of India (Marxist), set fire to the tents in which the protesters were staying on March 14, the day a team of officials from the National Highway Authority surveyed the land.

However, a green NGO has proposed an alternate plan – widening National Highway 17, built in 1975, and building a flyover in Thaliparambu could negate the need for the Thalassery Bypass Project.

The Thaliparambu paddy fields

In the Thaliparambu area of Keezhattur, there are 171 farmers and paddy fields extend over 48.9 hectares here. Koovdu area has 134 farmers and paddy fields stretch over 89 hectares here. There are 268 farmers in Kuttikol and paddy  that stretch over 91.5 hectares.

Keezhattur is a CPI(M) stronghold and all the affected families are affiliated to the CPI(M). Interestingly, Suresh Keezhattur and the group have been expelled from the party.

According to the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), an NGO that works for the environment, their alternative plan can lessen ecological damage in the area and save money.

The alternative plan

The KSSP plan shows that the highway was built with width of 30m in 1975.

“The Thaliparambu city road already has a width of 20-30 m. Due to the high number of commercial establishments, it is difficult to widen the road further. So, if a 10m-wide two-lane flyover is built from the 7th mile, the city’s starting point, to Lourde Hospital, it can resolve the existing traffic congestion,” the study says.

“Vertical development is what has been adopted all over the world. Out of the proposed 5.50 km highway development, 2.1 km will cover the flyover. Only 10.33 hectare of land need to be acquired, only 30 houses and 39 commercial establishments have to be demolished. Out of this, 24 buildings and 13 houses are 50 years old. If proper compensation is offered, this can be done without much hassle,” the study adds.

According to KSSP, for those who are losing their commercial establishments, the Corporation can provide space for them in shopping complexes in the city.

Talking to TNM, KSSP general secretary Meerabhai TK said that the protestors have welcomed this alternative plan.

“The protestors are convinced by our study. But the government has to do a detailed study with scientists and find a solution which will not damage the ecology and livelihood of people,” she added.

National Highway Authority plans

The National Highway Authority had examined two options for the Thaliparambu Bypass.

One is the Kuttikol-Koovodu-Plattottam-Madnumkondu-Kuppam route and the second one is Kuttikal-Koovodu-Keezhaattor-Kuppam route.

In the Kuttikol-Koovodu-Plattottam-Madnumkondu-Kuppam path, the road was supposed to be 5.47 km long and for this, 26.17 hectare land had to be taken over. Out of this, 17.48 hectare belongs to individuals.

Additionally, 8.19 hectare watershed area (catchment area) should be leveled, 116 houses and four commercial establishments should be moved out.

In the Kuttikal-Koovodu-Keezhaattor-Kuppam path, the road will be 6 km long. For this, 29.11 hectare land, including 21.09 hectare paddy fields or watershed area, should be taken over. Thirty houses, four commercial establishments and four sheds should also be removed.

Unfortunately, more hectares of watershed area has to be sacrificed for the latter, and it is likely to affect the water flow from other areas.

And now, to build the road, the farmland has to be elevated by at least 3 metres.

Now, in the Kuttikal-Koovodu-Keezhaattor-Kuppam, out of the 6 km of road, at least 4 km has to be elevated and for this, 6,48,000 cubic meter sand is needed.

KSSP’s claims

According to KSSP, a majority of the projects are implemented in the state without proper studies conducted first and that has caused irreparable ecological damage.

“In 1991-92 when there was 5,41,000 hectare farm land; in 2015-16 it has shrunk to 1,97,000. From being an industrial sector and service-oriented state, it has become a consumer-oriented state now,” says the KSSP.

The organisation also claims that the number of vehicles is a perfect example to prove that the state has become a consumer state.

“In 1998-99, the number of vehicles in the state was 1,708,938 and in 2015-16 it has become 10,171,813,” the KSSP says.

The government’s stand

Meanwhile, last week, Public Works Department minister G Sudhakaran said that the alignment that had been chosen in Keezhattur was the one that would cause the least amount of disruption and displacement.

The minister was replying to an adjournment motion moved by Congress legislator VD Satheesan in the Assembly.

Sudhakaran said that the other two alternative alignments explored by the District Collector involved the demolition of 298 and 78 buildings respectively.

“The one we finally chose required the demolition of only 28 buildings,” Sudhakaran said.

The minister further said that 56 of the 60 families that would be affected by the proposed bypass had submitted their no-objection certificate.

Further, countering Satheesan’s claim that mandatory measures under the Right to Compensation Act were not followed, the PWD minister said that all the necessary procedures like mitigatory plan, public hearing, a social impact study and an expert appraisal had been carried out.

It is said that 11.5 acres of paddy lands will be lost to the bypass.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, intervening during the adjournment motion, said that unnecessary protests would not be allowed to stand in the way of development. He also said that the alignment was chosen as there was no other alternative.

The PWD minister, too, said that the agitators did not provide an alternative despite repeated requests.

However, Muslim League leader Dr MK Muneer later said that the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad had an proposed another alignment.

Currently, the protestors are planning to hold a long march to the state capital to save their paddy fields.

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