Budget announcement on road widening has farmers up in arms

The proposal envisages turning the existing 2-lane between Rajapalayam and Shencottai into 4-lane

The announcement in the Union Budget about widening the existing 2-lane between Rajapalayam and Shencottai, part of the Thirumangalam – Kollam Highway, into 4-lane has agitated the farming community in the region.

The existing busy and winding 2-lane between Rajapalayam and Shencottai with 13 to 20 meter width that causes frequent mishaps will become a 4-lane highway, as per the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) proposal. The width of the road will be 45 meters while the width at the toll plaza will be 90 meters.

The NHAI, which has proposed to lay the 75.284 Km-long 4-lane between Rajapalayam and Shencottai, will have to acquire 364.26 hectares of land for laying the thoroughfare. For land acquisition and compensation for assets, the NHAI has earmarked ₹349.57 crore including ₹113.25 crore for land acquisition compensation, ₹ 217.94 crore for compensation for lands with assets and ₹18.38 crore for rehabilitation and relocation.

The NHAI, having 22 hectares in its possession while the State Government has 2.92 hectares, has to get the remaining extent of land. Hence, it has earmarked ₹349.57 crore for land compensation towards land acquisition, assets and relocation and rehabilitation.

NHAI sources said ₹34.70 lakh per hectare in Tenkasi district might be given as compensation for the lands without any assets created on it while lands with assets would be given ₹1.07 crore per hectare. The NHAI has planned to sort out the disputes, if any, in acquisition of land, by February so as to award the contract in March. To facilitate this exercise, the State Government has deputed 110 officials.

Ever since the State Government came up with the proposal for widening the Thirumangalam – Rajapalayam – Shencottai Highway two years ago (even before the formation of Tenkasi district), the farmers were against the move, saying that the project would be serious threat to the environment as hundreds of acres of cultivable lands would be acquired.

“Several hundreds of acres of cultivable lands, waterbodies, residences etc. in Sivagiri, Kadayanallur and Shencottai taluks will be seriously affected. Since the project is taken up in an area close to the Western Ghats, it will also pose threat to the wildlife. So we will resist this project in every possible manner,” says S.T. Shaik Maideen of Akhila India Vivsaayigal Maha Sabha from Vadakarai.

When land acquisition for 69 km between Chathrapatti near Rajapalayam to Shencottai was initiated 18 months ago and marker stones were erected with police protection inside the ranches to be acquired for the project, it triggered instant resistance from the farmers.

“Without conducting any public hearing, the project requiring a few hundred acres of land has been announced. Land acquisition for this project will affect 2,500 farmers… When the road slices a field into two, one of the two halves will get water for irrigation while the other half will not. Those who question the forcible acquisition are being threatened. The marker stones have been erected with police protection at Puliyarai, Thaenpoththai, Paimpozhil and Vadakarai. It will only kill paddy cultivation in this region besides blowing a death knell for coconut production,” says Zakhir Hussein of Vadakarai.

The farmers suggest that the project should be realigned by acquiring uncultivable lands, also situated close to the existing road to be widened.

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