Tension prevailed in the town famous for fireworks on Saturday after an auto-driver, K. Ganesan (40) died by setting himself ablaze, bringing a massive eviction drive conducted by the district administration following a Supreme Court direction to an abrupt end.
Even as officials and employees of various government departments were getting ready to demolish 138 buildings of Thanthai Periyar Nagar, all encroachments in the Sirukulam tank here, the man climbed atop the roof of the first floor of his house and dousing his body in kerosene and immolated himself around 7 a.m.
With the flames engulfing his body, he leaped to the roof of an adjacent building and suffered a head injury. The police, fire and rescue service personnel rushed him to hospital. The crowd started throwing stones at an earthmover involved in demolition work, and the police said they used “mild force” to disperse it. However, as news of Ganesan’s death in the hospital spread, the Collector, T.N. Hariharan, ordered a halt to the eviction drive led by the Sivakasi Revenue Divisional Officer, V.R. Subbulakshmi.
Earlier, over 600 police personnel, led by Deputy Inspector General of Police Bala Naga Devi, Superintendents of Police Najmul Hoda (Virudhunagar) and V. Balakrishnan (Madurai) secured around 500 metres of the Sivakasi-Virudhunagar Highway abutting the bund of the Sirukulam tank. Following a case filed by the Sivakasi Region Tax Payers’ Association, the Supreme Court, in October 2011, had ordered eviction of all the residential and commercial buildings on the tank by March. Subsequently, the association also filed a contempt petition in the apex court after the officials did not comply with the order.
“We started the eviction as per the Supreme Court order. But, we had to stop it after the unfortunate incident,” Mr. Hariharan said. He said the State Government had allocated Rs. 10.37 crore for providing houses in nearby Anaiyur.
“We have made arrangements to accommodate these people in five community halls and provide them food. Efforts are also on to get temporary shelters ready in Anaiyur,” he said.
Leaders of all parties, including the Srivilliputtur MLA, V. Ponnupandi, who met the Collector, demanded that the State government reclassify the land and allow the people to continue to live in the same place where they had invested their lifetime savings.
“Their buildings were only on the bund and not on the water catchment area and also caused no hindrance to road traffic,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) functionary, P.N. Deva, said. He said efforts were on to get a stay of the directive to evict the buildings.