|Uncertainty looms large in many villages along Thathampatti-Manthikulam stretch, a double-crop region under Periyar canal irrigation in Madurai district, following the recent notification by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to acquire land for a₹700-crore Ring Road project connecting Dindigul highway (NH 44) with Tiruchi highway (NH 45B).|
Shocked by the notification, coupled with lack of clarity on land acquisition, those who will lose their lands have started organising themselves against the project. Apart from the key concerns of loss of fertile land, water resources and livelihood, these villagers have questioned the necessity of a ‘greenfield’ project through agricultural land when the State government is also planning a Ring Road project, mainly through existing roads, to serve the same purpose.
The 29.96-km-long NHAI project, which is a component of the ₹3,000- crore project to connect all State and National Highways branching out of Madurai, intends to decongest city roads by allowing outstation vehicles to bypass the city. The road that starts at Thathampatti, passes through Kalvelipatti, Kallanai, Valasai, Kondaiyanpatti, Karuvanur, Manthikulam and joins NH 45B at Thamaraipatti.
The opponents point to the Government Order (GO) issued by Highways department in January 2018, sanctioning ₹30 lakh for preparing a Detailed Project Report for the Ring Road to connect the same two highways, mainly by four-laning the existing road from Nagari till Arumbanur, for about 30 km. “The State government project starts at Nagari, hardly nine km south of Thathampatti. At the NH 45B-end, both the projects join more or less near the same point,” said M. Muthandi of Karuvanur.
According to the GO, the proposed route was chosen because of minimum land acquisition of around 40 acres at a cost of roughly ₹9.2 crore. The villagers contrast this with the NHAI project that requires acquisition of 526 acres.
Even in this scorching summer, the lands in these parts have lush greenery. In Thathagoundanpatti, K. Karuppiah and his brothers raise horticultural crops on 15 acres throughout the year, thanks to three wells. “I earn ₹2,000 a day from sampangi (tuberose) flower alone during season,” Mr. Karuppiah says. “Three acres of my land, including all the wells, will be gone. To dig a well like this will cost at least ₹20 lakh now and there is no certainty that I will get water. If my water sources are gone, what will I do with the remaining land?,” he asks.
Many others complain that they are losing all their lands. T. Suresh of Kalvelipatti has around three acres near Periyar Main Canal. “I raise paddy twice a year. I am clueless about the future,” he says.
V. Sembayee’s husband and his brothers have a banana plantation on around three acres with a well in Karuvanur. “My husband and his brothers are not educated. All they know is farming. We don’t want compensation. We just want to retain our land,” she says.
Karuvanur villagers petitioned Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao on Monday last about the project passing through the Big Tank, connected to Periyar irrigation system. Though the NHAI stated that the road would not bifurcate the tank and instead a pillar-supported bridge would be constructed, the villagers are not convinced. “Small streams and canals going on different sides of the canal will certainly be disturbed,” said M. Kannan whose three acres and a well have been marked for acquisition.
“If the road is laid, the entire topography of the region will change in a few years. This double-crop region will cease to be the rice bowl of the district,” he said.