Amidst ongoing agrarian distress in the country, farmers of Keezhattur village in Kerela’s Kannur district have found themselves in another crisis.
Gathered under the banner ‘Vayalkillikal’ (birds of the field), farmers in the region are protesting against the construction of the National Highway which would pass through their paddy fields.
Protesting farmers are taking shelter in temporary sheds in the paddy fields and are threatening self-immolation if the project takes off.
“As many as 1000 farmers are going to be affected by the bypass on the highway which will ruin our fertile soil. And, the marginal farmers in particular will be at the receiving end of the project meant for so-called development. The construction of the road will render hundreds without a source of income “, said Joshy Joseph, General Secretary of Kerala Farmer’s Federation (KEFF).
“ The left government could have amicably solved the issue, they could have called upon all parties involved in the project and heard the agitating farmers.”
The farmers allege that the length of the proposed bypass is 5.7 km and width is 45 meter which will destroy the paddy fields in the village. The width of Keezhattur’s agricultural land is only 100 meter.
In a study by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, a people’s science movement, it was found that 29.1 hectares of land is required for the bypass of which 21 hectares constitute of paddy field and wetland.
Keezhattur’s geography makes it a water reservoir as it is surrounded by hills on three sides. This makes its soil ideal for paddy cultivation.
As per the abovementioned study, water levels will deplete as paddy cultivation will become impossible if the road is constructed.
People suffer as parties pass the buck
The state Congress and KEFF have both criticized the Left government for neglecting the farmers demand and ignoring the available alternative.
In conversation with Hind Kisan Ramesh Channithala, leader of opposition said, “There were three proposals, but the state government and National Highway Authority (NHA) selected the project which goes through the paddy fields.”
“More than 200 acres of land will become useless due to the proposed road and there will not be any cultivation in the fertile land. We asked the government to construct an alleviated road instead but the government is hell bent to destroy the ecology”, he further added.
However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had hit back at the Congress and said that the project was actually initiated by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government itself.
The Left U-Turn
The CPI(M) had opposed the project previously. In August 2016, the party supported the first protest by the villagers and echoed the agitating farmers saying that it will destroy livelihood, property, and environment. The party had said then that construction of the road will make thousands homeless and that hundreds of people will lose their jobs. They had even cautioned about the destruction of wetlands which could deplete water levels. The party had gone to the extent of saying that the villages would become uninhabitable post the project.
But on coming back to the government, there has been a 360 degree turn in their approach.
It is alleged that the CPI(M) has left no stone unturned to crush the protest by the villagers. The party cadres had reportedly burnt the shed where the protestors were camping and reports of stone pelting at the protestors and their homes have been circulating in various media platforms.
Speaking to Hind Kisan senior CPI(M) leader Hannan Mollah said, “This is an approach road which will connect with the existing highway. For this road project 4 to 6 acre of land will be acquired which will affect around 30 farmers. Initially, the road’s width was 45 meter but the left government discussed with NHA and decided to decrease the width to 30 meter to protect as much land as possible.”
The senior politician added, “The farmers did not protest when the project was started and the left government offered compensation of Rs 4 crore which they had accepted.
“We have also discussed with the central government to construct an alleviated road as it requires extra budget, but the center is yet to say anything about allocation of extra fund” said the leader.
When asked whether he would be holding talks with the protesting farmers, the CPI (M) leader blamed the opposition for fuelling the protest and said that the farmers are less likely to co-operate with them as they have been brainwashed by the opposition.
While the political parties are busy playing the blame game, farmers of Keezhattur village continue to resist despite the hostility from the government even as they live under the threat of losing their livelihoods.