Farmers living along the path of the proposed Salem-Chennai expressway have raised objections to soil and rock testing work that was reportedly underway over the past week at the Jarugumalai hills in Salem district, Tamil Nadu.
According to farmers in the area, the drilling work, taking place atop a remote mountain, had been ongoing for a week, but they noticed it only a few days ago. When they came to know about it and called the district administration, they allege that the district administration denied having commissioned any work.
The latest protest comes even as the proposed 277.30 km-long highway to connect Chennai and Salem districts has been slammed by farmers, environmental activists and political parties for not consulting the people whose agricultural lands and livelihoods are at stake.
Even as word spread about the works on Friday, nearly 100 farmers reportedly gathered at the Jarugumalai hill, demanding the work to be stopped.
Speaking to TNM, Narayanan, a farmer from Kuppanur asks, “They are testing soil. We went there to protest. They pretended to stop the work last evening, but they resumed it. Government has given no explanation for this. So who is doing this work and on what basis is the work taking place?”
Sivagami, a farmer from Ramalingapuram says that the police who arrived at the site on Friday sent them down the hill as soon as they began talking to the media.
"The matter is due in Court on Monday, why are they undertaking work now? The hill is at a height of 200 metres and the work is happening inside so we had no idea. We have stopped them from doing any further work today. None of the authorities from the Forest Department or Revenue Department have come here. They have said they will not continue the work for now,” she says.
On September 14, the Tamil Nadu government had assured the Madras High Court that land acquisition proceedings for the Salem-Chennai Expressway will not be carried out until further orders.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Project Director in Kancheepuram had filed an affidavit on the status of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the feasibility studies of the project. Following the NHAI's submission, land owners had expressed fears that the government may go ahead with the land acquisition proceedings by issuing a notification under Section 3D of the National Highways Act, 1956.
Section 3D of the National Highways Act, 1956 deals with declarations of acquisition made by the central government when an objection has not been raised to a project within a stipulated time period.