Mohamed Imranullah S.

MADURAI: The right of agriculturalists to enjoy irrigation facilities is, in a way, a part of the fundamental Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, the Madras High Court Bench here has observed.

A Division Bench, comprising Justice D. Murugesan and Justice S. Nagamuthu, also said that attempts to bring in development in other sectors at the cost of agriculture would prove detrimental to national interest.

They made the observations while setting aside a notification issued by a District Revenue Officer for acquiring lands, passing through two waterbodies, to widen National Highway 67 between Tiruchi and Karur.

They directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to form a committee of experts for visiting the site and exploring the possibility of realigning the road, thereby minimising the disturbance to the waterbodies.

The Tiruchi Collector and the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department were directed to extend assistance to the committee to facilitate completion of road-widening works before July based on the agreement entered with contractors.

The agriculturalists, who are the beneficiaries of the Punganoor and Kallikudi water tanks, were permitted to submit written objections, if any, before the committee, which should take them into consideration before arriving at a decision.

The orders were passed while disposing of two writ petitions, one filed by the Tamil Nadu Agriculturists Association of the Manikandam Panchayat Union in Tiruchi district and another by a farmer hailing from the same place.

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Nagamuthu said: “It is true that formation of a road under a national project is as important as any other project.

But, while doing so, every endeavour should be taken to minimise disturbance to irrigation resources.

“In recent times, growing scarcity and competition for water stand as major threat to future advancement in poverty alleviation. It is needless to say that food production is likely to be affected if our irrigation sources are not preserved.”

The judge also said that it was the primary responsibility of the government to protect natural water resources besides ensuring the livelihood of agriculturalists and marginal farmers as 65 per cent of the population was involved in the agricultural sector.