The Protest Against the Chennai-Salem Expressway Project

The blood on the streets of Thoothukudi is still wet, and the Tamil Nadu government launched a fresh attack on several farmers and activists, who were protesting against the recently proposed Chennai-Salem Green corridor project. The planned state-violence in Thoothukudi left 13 people dead and many more injured in the last month, and since then the district administration has arrested 248 persons for alleged violence, under 243 cases. The shameless government tried to justify the inhuman police action of as being due to the peoples’ protests against the Sterlite Copper turning violent, in contrary to the protestors’ claim of unprovoked and pre-planned police firing. However, the state’s fascist exercises against any kind of democratic voices again becomes clear in the latest state-repression on the people who were protesting against the proposed Chennai-Salem eight-lane expressway.

Chennai-Salem Greenfield Corridor project is a centrally-funded road and highways project under Bharatmala Pariyojana scheme. The objective of this 10,000 crore project is to shorten the travel time between Chennai and Salem by constructing an eight-lane expressway. However, the proposed 277.3 km long expressway will cause massive destruction of environment and peoples’ livelihood. It will run across 159 villages and 11 reserve forests, and will be spread across 2791 hectares of land, which includes agricultural lands, community land, and residential plots. The project is going to uproot poor peoples who are living in their places for three or four generations. As usual, the land acquisition process is dubious. No meeting was conducted between the villagers and concerned official in this regard, but marking the fields for acquisition has started. Even the fertile lands are being acquired forcefully. The state has deliberately kept the villagers in dark about the project. Even there is nothing in the public domain regarding the costs and the benefits of the proposed project except the Project Feasibility Report (PFR), which neither proves the project’s viability nor justifies the cost, rather, is full of plagiarized content and irrelevant information. Moreover, it must be noted that three different routes connecting Chennai and Salem already exist, among which the present shortest one is the 319 km Chennai-Tiruvannamalai-Oragadam-Tambaram route.

Naturally the intention of the government behind this hastily-announced project is now under question. The central government is planning to build major roads and highways to connect major industrial and mineral resource areas with the port. This may be seen as to fulfill the neo-colonial exploitation of the third world countries through exploitation of their resources and cheap labour. The ports are the nodal points for easy export of resources to other countries. The construction of the Chennai Salem expressway may also be seen in this light.

The farmers, environmental and political activists are not convinced with the demands of the project and protested the illegal land acquisition process, which has already started at several places without public meetings. The people who are protesting against such authoritative attitude of the state are now facing indiscriminate detention and other harassments. At least 25 farmers have been detained till now for protesting forcible land acquisition. Even actor Mansur Ali Khan, student activist Valarmathi, and environmentalist Piyush Manush have been arrested for opposing the project and for highlighting the dangers posed by it, in state’s language – for ‘inciting violence’ and misleading the farmers. According to Moorthy, a farmer from Kuppanur village, the local police are treating the farmers like terrorists. He said – “Anyone who questions the government decision, who seeks details on the project is detained.” Referring to the land measuring process that already have started in Achankuttapatti and Kuppanaur, Murthy brought in the front another important insight, i.e. – “Only in this part of the state, farmers were able to sustain their livelihoods without taking loans.” Therefore, by forcefully acquiring the fertile lands, the state is not only giving space to few corporates at the cost of the lives of millions of poor, but also forcing the farmers to enter the vicious cycle of agricultural loans, which in turn strengthens the feudal money-lending system in the countryside.

Dissent is an essential part of democracy. However, the continuing state-violence and state-repression in Tamil Nadu proves that the state is cutting off this essential part in a regular manner to satisfy the interests of the corporates. The recent arrest of advocate Vanchinathan, who has been a counsel for many cases filed on behalf of Thoothukudi citizens and anti-Sterlite protest groups, is another example of this. The struggling masses have witnessed that the state-machinery always openly took side of the corporates and unleashed massive repression on them. The recent incidents of state-repressions in Tamil Nadu should be seen as a part of the larger war that the Indian state has waged against its own people for the interest of the corporates.

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