Tension prevailed at Ponnurunni in the city on Thursday morning when a section of traders and landowners opposed the Kochi Corporation’s move to forcibly evict four traders for the approach road to the newly-constructed rail over-bridge. Kadavanthra police arrested 17 persons in connection with the incident.

The Ponnurunni unit of the Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi (KVVES) observed a hartal post-afternoon, with shops remaining closed between Ponnurunni and Chalikkavattom, in protest against the alleged arbitrary action.

Kadavanthra Sub-Inspector Anil George said the police action was based on an order issued by the Fort Kochi Revenue Divisional Officer to extent protection to the eviction drive. Cases were registered against the arrested for attempt to obstruct government servants before releasing them on bail, Mr. George said.

Sunil, a bakery owner who was among the evictees, accused the Corporation of reneging on its promise to give traders time till February 25, when the Ponnurunni Temple festival concludes.

He said the traders had received a letter dated January 21 from the Corporation’s special tehsildar for land acquisition directing them to move out by 5 p.m. on February 5. The traders had, however, not received any notice from the owner of the building — SP Yogam, the Ponnurunni Temple Committee — or the Corporation authorities prior to that letter. They were also told that the building owner had not agreed to hand over the land.

“We had approached the tehsildar and asked for time till February 25, pointing out that the festival fetched big business. We were promised to be left alone till then only to be evicted this morning. All my stock has been wasted and I couldn’t even recover outstanding dues from my customers,We are ” said Sunil.

A homeo pharmacy, a jewellery outlet and a tailoring unit that operated in rented shops were also evicted.

Special tehsildar for land acquisition Suresh Kumar said neither had he promised time till the end of the festival nor did he have such power. He said the sudden eviction was necessitated after the SP Yogam, which initially promised to surrender the land despite differences of opinion over its price, petitioned the High Court about the alignment of the approach road.

Thursday’s action was to pre-empt any possible stay against the eviction, which would have thrown the acquisition process and the commissioning of the overbridge and the approach road out of gear. Roads and Bridges Development Corporation (RBDC) had said the time for relocating the water pipelines was about to expire in which case it the government exchequer would suffer huge losses in terms of re-tendering.

Mr. Kumar said only 8.5 cents belonging to the temple remains of the total 35 cents to be acquired from about 12 landowners. Other landowners had given their consent and those who have rented the space have been given time till February 15. The four traders evicted would also have been given time till then if not for the temple committee’s decision to approach the court, he said.

Fostine Joseph, president of Ponnurunni unit of KVVES, said there was no clarity yet on the Corporation’s assurance more than ten years ago to rehabilitate traders in shops to be built under the overbridge. A complaint to the district collector in this regard had gone unheeded, he said.

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