Protesters against highway expansion mob Minister at party headquarters
High drama played out on the premises of League House, Indian Union Muslim League headquarters, here on Sunday with a large group of people waylaying Public Works Minister V.K. Ebrahim Kunju in protest against the State government’s decision to fix the width of National Highways in the State at 45 metres.
The Minister had just arrived for a meeting of the party’s State working committee when the group, including women and children, surrounded him. They told him that the highway expansion would render them homeless.
The protest follows a recent statement by Mr. Kunju that the National Highways would be widened to 45 metres through a BOT (build, operate and transfer) process despite the State government pushing for a 30-metre width in view of the hurdles before land acquisition. He had said that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had informed the government that the lower width was impossible.
As tension rose outside League House, Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty came out to reason with the protesters, who had become restive and started shouting slogans.
The situation took an ugly turn with another group, mainly of Youth League members, confronting the protesters outside the main gate. The police intervened to disperse the visitors to prevent escalation of tension.
Rumours flew thick and fast on R.C. Road, the location of the party headquarters, that the group which had come was motivated by elements inimical to the party. Tempers rose as party workers asked how the visitors mustered the courage to protest outside League House and waylay party leaders.
Azad, State vice-president and Malappuram district committee head of the Desiyapatha Samrakshana Samithi, an umbrella organisation working for the rights of people affected by the National Highway expansion, however, said the families who had come there were mostly residents of Veliyancode, Perumbadappu and Parapetti, near Ponnani, a League stronghold, in Malappuram district.
“After being taken up at Chavakkad, survey for the highways has started in their areas. But there is still no clarity about the compensation and rehabilitation package for them. They think that the government has allowed their land to be acquired for the National Highway without paying any compensation,” he said. Dr. Azad said the expansion to 45 metres would affect 20,000 families from Parapetti to Idimuzhikal in Malappuram. The League had opposed such a width during the term of the LDF government, but had changed tack when the UDF came to power.
Later, in a press briefing at the headquarters, E.T. Mohammed Basheer, party secretary and MP from Ponnani, said the League had tried its best to reduce the width to 30 metres, but the NHAI had remained adamant.
“The then LDF government had intervened to reduce the width to 30 metres. The Chief Minister also made an intervention, but it is not in our hands. The NHAI has its norms,” Mr. Basheer said.