The Rs. 1,200-crore factory is to be set up at Mondipatti

“Our lands are our livelihood. How can they snatch away the lands from us? We do not want any factory or job. We are ready to die for our lands” declared a visibly agitated Palanimma, whose lands are among those identified for take over for the paper board factory planned at Mondipatti in Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s Srirangam constituency.

At Mondipatti, an equally vehement Manimekalai wondered: “With no rain and no work, are we to die here. Our children are going to Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Tirupur in search of jobs. We want the factory.”

The viewpoints of these two women sum up the sharp division among the villagers over the Rs.1,200-crore factory to be set up by the Tamil Nadu News Print and Papers Ltd (TNPL).

The district authorities have identified about 980 acres of land, a major part of them dry and wastelands, across Mondipatti revenue village for the project. Most of the cultivable lands are at Podhuvarpatti, one of the eight hamlets in the panchayat. The villagers have been informed orally by officials about the proposal to take over their lands, but the land acquisition process is yet to begin.

Emotions run high among farmers whose small holdings have been identified for being taken over for the project. Several women, who participated in a demonstration at Manapparai on Tuesday against the acquisition of their lands for the project, are unnerved at the prospect of losing their lands.

A widow with four daughters, Palaniamma stands to lose her two acres of land if the government goes ahead with its acquisition plan.

“What kind of jobs will the factory provide to these illiterate people. We live with dignity now; we don’t want menial jobs as sweepers, cleaners and watchmen,” says Rani, whose family has 20 acres of land in Podhuvarpatti.

Amid vast tracts of dry wastelands, agricultural fields and groves thrive in patches across Podhuvarpatti and neighbouring Poongudipatti and Mondipatti hamlets. The fields are irrigated by open wells which surprisingly hold enough water even now despite the monsoon failure. About 48 such wells in Podhuvarpatti and Poongudipatti and a couple of tanks in the rainfed areas fall under the stretch of land proposed to be taken over, say farmers.

Farmers raise a variety of crop including sugarcane, chillies and millets, apart from coconut and mangoes. “If we could raise such a variety of crops at the height of the summer, imagine what we could do when we get rain,” observed V. Palanisamy, a farmer of Podhuvarpatti.

But many of the landless labourers are in favour of the factory. “We want the mill (factory) to come up so that we can get jobs. We have no land and no jobs. We go in search of jobs as construction workers in Tiruchi everyday,” said C. Raj, a youth from Poongudipatti. He and a group of youths from the colony insist that the factory should come up in larger interest.

M.P. Chinnadurai, district president, Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam, who has been spearheading the farmers’ agitation, maintained that they were not against the project as such. “We welcome the project, but oppose only the acquisition of cultivable lands. There are more than 2,000 acres of wastelands in the same area where the factory can be set up so that the interests of all sections can be protected,” he said.