62 acres of cultivable wetland has been identified on the eastern side of Outer Ring Road for the terminus.
It is well past noon and the temperature has long gone past 35 degree Celsius. But that does not seem to deter G. Pandian, D. Muthuraman and many others who are hard at work on their ancestral farmlands in Vandalur. They are supervising a group of workers engaged to harvest ‘ellu’ (gingelly or sesame) and ‘ulundu’ (urad dal or black gram). At the same time, they are pumping water from a surface well to neighbouring plots, preparing them for transplanting paddy.
The calm is deceptive though as a wave of unrest has swept this area ever since the State government announced that it would construct a bus terminus in Vandalur on the lines of Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus, Koyambedu. There is discontent over the fact that 62 acres of ‘nanjai’ (fertile and cultivable wetland) has been identified on the eastern side of Outer Ring Road, abutting Vandalur – Wallajahbad Road for the terminus. The project was announced by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on April 30. The new terminus will be built by Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and is expected to facilitate more bus services to the southern districts of the State.
Posters have come up in many spots in Vandalur village as well as nearby hamlets of Otteri and surrounding areas in which small farmers have appealed to the government to drop the plan of acquiring wetlands for the project. According to them, vast tracts of land classified as ‘tharisu’ and ‘poramboke’ (dry and unassessed waste land) were available in plenty along Vandalur – Wallajahbad Road where the terminus could be built and easily linked with both Outer Ring Road as well as Grand Southern Trunk Road.
“I have been a farmer all my life, just like my father and his ancestors. The failure of monsoon last year and the drying up of the ‘periya eri’ (big lake) has led to the yield coming down this year and so, I do not expect to make a profit. But, I will not give up farming due to such reasons,” Mr. Muthuraman said.
Many others like him were very certain that they did not wish to sell their land and go anywhere. “We might dispose our assets, share the money among us and shift elsewhere. But, what will we do for our livelihood?” wondered Mr. Pandian.
Farmers said that but for the failure of the monsoon, lush green fields would normally dot the area.
The farmers said acquiring their farmlands would not only affect them but also workers hired for sowing, transplanting and harvesting. They felt that taking over land that had been theirs for generations would be an arbitrary move and appealed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to intervene and drop the proposal of acquiring fertile farmlands.
This would set a wrong precedent at a time when fertile farmlands were vanishing at an alarming rate, resulting in the loss of livelihoods of farmers, not just in the State, but all over India, said Mr. Muthuraman. Kancheepuram collector L. Sitherasenan said that the district administration had taken note of the grievances of the farmers and clarified that the impact of the proposal on the farmers would be minimal.