Vehicular movement on the busy Palayamkottai–Tuticorin National Highway and Palayamkottai–Tiruchendur Highway was paralysed for more than three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday when over 3,000 farmers from Tirunelveli and neighbouring Tuticorin districts blocked these thoroughfares demanding the immediate removal of a portion of the one-metre-high wall constructed across Kannadiyan check dam as part of the ongoing Tamirabharani–Karumaeniyar and Nambiyar river linking project.

The protesting farmers finally gave up their agitation on Chief Engineer, PWD, Madurai Region, A. Chandrasekaran, giving an assurance in writing that “appropriate steps” would be taken within two months after a case pending before Madurai Bench of Madras High Court regarding this issue was disposed of.

Since over 13,758 million cubic feet (mcft) is wasted during every rainy season, it was decided to excavate a flood carrier from the existing Kannadian Channel at Vellankuzhi near Cheranmahadevi in Tirunelveli district to the drought prone area of Nanguneri, Thisaiyanvilai, Radhapuram and Sattankulam by interlinking Tamirabharani, Karumeniyar and Nambiyar rivers through a 73 Km-long channel being dug now.

From Kannadiyan check dam, the Tamirabharani's surplus water of 2,765 mcft would be taken to irrigation tanks at Suviseshapuram, Pattancherry, Vijayaachchampaadu, Singachaavadi, Subramaniyapuram, Puthukkualm, Kalkulam, Nanthankulam, Yerumaikulam, Avichchaankulam, Aayankulampadugai, Aanaikudipadugai, Ilaikulam, Kadakulam, Puththantharuvai and M.L. Thaeri.

Since only the surplus floodwater will be diverted to these dry regions, the ongoing project will not affect the existing irrigation systems. Moreover, the diverted floodwater of the Tamirabharani will improve the groundwater in more than 50 villages and storage level in 5,220 irrigation tanks in these hamlets, the officials say.

River-linking project

As part of the Rs. 369-crore river-linking project, the height of the 515 metre-long wall in the Kannadiyan check dam was increased by one metre from the existing 6.50 feet to 9.50 feet with the objective of diverting the surplus flood water, which triggered suspicion among the farmers of Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai and also their counterparts in Tuticorin district that the new structure would stop the flow of water to their region.

When the ‘aggrieved farmers' met the PWD officials on November 10, 2010, it was decided to revert the height of the wall to 6.50 feet for about 70 metres in the lower region. However, PWD Secretary K. Dhanavel, who inspected the project on January 22, made it clear that the wall would not be removed, which triggered a series of protests.

As their fast on February 1 did not yield any result, the farmers decided to gather at Srinivasa Nagar near Palayamkottai to take out a procession to the Kannadiyan check dam to smash the ‘diversion wall'.

Around 11.15 a.m., the farmers' started to overflow on the Palayamkottai – Tuticorin and Palayamkottai – Tiruchendur highway to stop vehicular movement.

When a section of the agitating farmers, uprooted the signboards on the highway and concrete slabs on roadside drainage pits, the police force led by Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Tirunelveli Range, K.P. Shanmugarajeshwaran and Commissioner of Police V. Varadharaju moved towards the mob. Some of the protestors attacked two-wheeler riders and smashed the windscreen of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus proceeding to Udankudi.

The PWD Chief Engineer, Mr. Chandrasekaran, and the Superintending Engineer (Tamirabharani), N. Pascal Raj, reached the spot and gave in writing that the farmers' association should take steps to vacate the stay given by the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court.

Based on the court verdict and the decision arrived at an earlier meeting with farmers, appropriate steps would be taken to solve the issue, the officials assured, following which the crowd dispersed.

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