Proposal to set up industrial park shelved following decade-old farmers protest
A 13-year-old struggle by farmers of three villages near Tirumangalam to hold on to their agricultural land that were acquired for setting up SIPCOT industrial park has finally fructified after the Department of Industries dropping the scheme.
A Government Order, dated December 21, issued by Principal Secretary, Department of Industries, dropping the scheme comes after the district administration declared that the entire 588.57.87 hectares of land in Karisalkalampatti, Sivarakottai and Swamimallampatti were cultivable lands and acquisition of these lands would directly affect the farmers.
“It is a huge victory for all the farmers who have sustained the protest all these years,” said president of Madurai district Farmers Association, M. Ramalingam, who had spear-headed the protest.
The farmers contention was that though the land did not have any irrigation facility, the fertile land was the major source for minor millets.
“The black soil of the area with high water holding capacity on the rain-fed farms helped the farmers grow lot of minor millets, pulses and cotton,” said former Joint Director of Agriculture, A. Jeyasingh Gnanadurai.
Even when the farm lands under double crop area of Periyar-Vaigai irrigation system had remained bone dry for months together without adequate storage in the reservoirs, the farm lands in these three villages had vast tracts of greenery.
“The farmers were able to grow their crop even with sparse rainfall,” he added.
The problem started with the State Government in 2007 planning to acquire around 5,500 acres of land in Tirumangalam Taluk. However, it gave up the plan partially and dropped the lands in Vellakulam, Kalligudi and Kengampatti. Subsequently, it also left out 1,000 acres of land in Sengapadai.
In 2009, it issued a G.O. on acquiring 1,478.71 acres of land in Sivarakottai, Karisalkalampatti and Swamimallampatti amidst protests from farmers.
“We were growing 22 varieties of millets and pulses and cotton almost all around the year,” Mr. Ramalingam said. This was possible despite no irrigation system, without lift irrigation in the absence of wells or borewells. “The Government incurred no additional burden on account of free power to farmers of our villages,” he said.
The fodder of the crops also helped the farmers raise at least 2 lakh goats/sheep and around 500 milch animals. Besides, the farm lands were home for innumerable wild animals, like spotted deer, wild boars, peacocks and wild cats.
The farmers claimed that the officials misguided the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court on its plan and subsequently they had to fight their legal battle at Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the then leader of opposition, Jayalalithaa, had vowed to return the land to the farmers upon coming to power in 2011. However, the issue was put in the backburner though during every election to the Parliament and Assembly, the AIADMK promised to keep its words.
The G.O. now said that there was no need for an industrial park at Sivarakottai as one was already functioning 10 km away in Kappalur and another was in the pipeline 45 km away at Sattur.
The district administration finally acknowledged that several resolutions were passed against the land acquisition at the grama sabha meetings.
Based on the district Collector’s report, the Commissioner of Land Administration recommended dropping of land acquisition and cancel the administrative sanction for the industrial park.
Farmers thanked Revenue Minister, R.B. Udhayakumar, who is also the MLA of Tirumangalam Assembly constituency under which the three villages fall, for taking efforts to retrieve their farm lands.
Farmers distributed sweets in Tirumangalam to celebrate their victory in the long-drawn battle.
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