In a desperate attempt to convey their anguish to the government, a few Tamil Nadu farmers mimicked hanging themselves from electricity transmission towers on Wednesday, objecting to an electricity project. Their opposition is directed at the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited for implementing the project and against the government of Tamil Nadu for being silent spectators despite the resistance.
More than 4,000 farmers from 13 districts in Tamil Nadu are on a sit-in protest in eight centres across these districts since Monday.
The project, carried out by Power Grid Corporation of India Limited and the Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation Limited, involves erecting towers to facilitate transmission of High Tension electricity. This project was formulated to bring electricity from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh to Pugalur in Tiruppur district in Tamil Nadu and then take it to Thrissur in Kerala. The project was approved in 2014 by the Ministry of Power, Government of India at an estimated cost of Rs 1,500 crore.
The farmers in 13 districts in Tamil Nadu, including Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Erode, Namakkal, Karur, Trichy, Salem, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Villupuram and Dindigul, are against the project alleging that the construction of electricity transmission towers will deprive them of their livelihood.
Why are the farmers opposing the project?
Speaking to TNM, Palanisamy, a farmer who is protesting against the project at the Kallippalayam centre in Tiruppur district, said that the power lines and the tower is detrimental to farmers like him. â€śThe presence of a power transmission tower will reduce the value of farming lands. For example, nobody will give us loans based on our agricultural lands if there are towers on them, we cannot set up a poultry farm or dig borewells with such towers on our lands,â€ť he said. He also stated that if they wanted to sell their land later, nobody would buy land on which transmission towers are erected.
The protesting farmers also claim that the police officers who accompany the representatives from the company for measuring land use undue force on the people. They also accuse the police of manhandling women who oppose officials who enter their lands without proper authorisation.
â€śThis project is implemented under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which says that if the people who occupy the land that is earmarked for a project oppose the project, then the land owners must give a letter to the district collector, who will then call each owner personally and conduct an inquiry, after which if he deems it fit, he will give entry permission in advance to the officers. Only with that permission can those officers enter the land,â€ť claimed Rajendiran, a farmer who is protesting at Sulthanpettai centre in Coimbatore district.
Rajendiran added that despite submitting many petitions, nobody was called for inquiry by the collector either in Tiruppur or Coimbatore. â€śIn fact, one of our farmers had locked his land with fencing. Yesterday, a group of officials visited the farm and the DSP of Sulur broke the lock, facilitating illegal entry. When the women in the house opposed, they dragged them out and locked them in police vehicles. This is atrocious,â€ť he fumed.
Farmers claim that though ministers and officials agree that the project will damage their livelihood, they ask the farmers to give in for the sake of development.
Palanisamy told TNM that the farmers in these regions have been up in arms against the project ever since work started in 2015. â€śWe have been submitting petition after petition to all officers, from the local leader to ministers. All of them agree that the project will cause irreparable loss to our livelihood, but they are asking us to take the compensation and allow the project to continue for the sake of development,â€ť he said.
Palanisamy rued, â€śThe continued neglect makes us wonder if development after destroying our lives is worth it.â€ť
Can the project be implemented through alternate methods?
Explaining that the farmers were not against development and that they had even suggested alternate methods to implement the project. â€śWe are asking the government and the company to consider laying the transmission lines through underground cables like they have in big cities in Tamil Nadu,â€ť Palanisamy said.
Agreeing with Palanisamy, Rajendiran added that transmission lines from Pugalur to Thrissur for the same project have been laid underground. â€śWe are asking the government to change it to underground here also instead of putting up overhead cables,â€ť he said.
Rajendiran also added that for land that has already been acquired, an additional amount must be added to the amount already fixed in order to compensate for the drastic reduction in the value of the land once the towers are erected.
District Collectors of Tiruppur and Coimbatore and the Sulur DSP were unavailable for comment when TNM tried to contact them.