From public protest to boycotting elections, the villagers tried all democratic means to register their protest. But the government went ahead with the project and even used brutal police force to suppress the agitation.
“Of the seven lakes, five of them have already been lost as they have been filled up for constructions. The remaining two, Chitteri Lake and Big Lake (Periyeri) are under threat and water is fast depleting,” said K Mahesh of Thervoy Garama Makkal Munnetra Nala Sangam, an organization formed by the villagers to spearhead the agitation.
These lakes were the major source of water for agriculture spreading around 3,500 acre in 18 villages, including Thervoy, Kannankottai, Sankarai, Kadaputhur, Soolameni and Annavaram.
“Thirty five mini check dams which controlled the flow of water to these lakes have been completely destroyed,” he said.
The villagers protested the land acquisition as the project was coming up in Meikal Poromboke, a traditional forest used by the villagers for centuries. The site was also close to Sankarai, Palavakkam and Nemallur reserve forests.
While the protest was raging, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) Chennai conducted an environmental impact assessment study in the village in 2010 and had listed out serious consequences of large scale destruction of forest and water bodies in the village.
To placate the villagers, authorities conducted a public hearing and the entire village objected to the project. But public hearing report prepared by the officials claimed the project had the people’s consent.
The villagers say the government managed to get clearance form the environment ministry by producing a false report claiming that there is no habitation or forest close to the site. “A survey conducted in 2009 as per the direction of Madras high court had listed 844 trees at the project site and all of them have been countdown now,” said Mahesh.
“For centuries agriculture was our main source of livelihood. As of 700 acres of farm land have already become ununcultivable due to shortage water and constructions close by,” said S Gautham, a farmer and a leader of TGMNLS.
While the government went ahead with the project, the villagers approached Madras high court. In an order issued on September 16, 2009, the court directed the government to set aside 380 acre of land as grass land and another 100 acre the development fodder for cattle. But till now the land has been handed over to the villagers.
The government had also promised to set up and industrial training centre to help the youths in the village to get jobs. But the centre has not been set up till date. The 16 families displaced from the site have been rehabilitated. That is the only thing the government has done so far, he said.
While more and more MNC’s flocking to the village with the tacit support of the state, the hapless villagers are fighting a losing battle against the Goliaths of development.Tags: MIDS, SIPCOT, Thervoy Kandigai, village forest, water bodies