Tents of protesting farmers in Kannur set on fire allegedly by CPI (M) workers
The Vayalkkili protests took a turn on Wednesday when the tents set up by agitating farmers were set on fire allegedly by CPI (M) workers.
The protestors were fighting against the filling up of 250 acres of paddy fields for building a highway. There are 58 paddy field owners in the area and 46 of them are part of the farmer’s collective Vayalkkili. The collective was formed by the locals of Keezhattur, near Thaliparamb in Kannur, to protest against the construction of the highway.
On Wednesday, farmers had threatened to set fire to themselves if officials came to survey the land for the highway. The government ordered the arrest of 40 farmers and asked for them to be held at the Thaliparamb police station while the survey was conducted.
"After the protesters were arrested, CPI (M) workers came and set the tents on fire," Vineeth, who is part of the collective, told TNM. “The party has threatened us many times. They have tried to stop the protests in multiple ways. We have no objection to the highway, but it shouldn’t be built on paddy fields. There are other options, why don’t they consider those? Why should the livelihoods of the farmers and the ecology be affected?”
The Kuppam-Kuttikkol highway was proposed in 2003. But, according to protestors, the decision then was to build the highway in the upper land, not through the paddy fields.
In 2016, a new notification said that 250 acres of paddy fields would be filled up to accommodate the project and that a preliminary survey would be conducted.
Vayalkkili then approached the High Court, questioning the survey, asking how the notification was passed without consulting the people. The court’s verdict at that time was favourable to the collective.
Protestors also say that in a meeting held in the District Collectorate, in the presence of Minister of Ports Kadannappalli Ramachandran, it was agreed that the paddy fields would not be filled up.
“It was agreed that it would only pass through the upper land and not the fields,” says Vineeth.
However, another notification for the survey came two months ago, which said, once again, that the fields would be filled up. Vayalkkili then intensified its protests and set up tents for its ‘Vayalinu Kaval’, paddy field guards.
These tents, however, were gutted on Wednesday.
“By arresting the protesters and setting the tents on fire, what they intended was to carry out the survey smoothly,” alleges Vineeth.