Neyveli has always been a dusty town in Cuddalore district in northern Tamil Nadu, and it built its reputation from its lignite reserves that helped to generate electricity. However, protests last week, which turned violent, have hit NLC India Ltd. (NLCIL)’s mining expansion plans at Neyveli. Farmers and political parties are objecting to its recent land acquisition exercise that is at the heart of the raging controversy in the district.
A row began at Melvalayamadevi after NLCIL moved to take possession of land, acquired a decade ago, by flattening standing paddy crops. When NLCIL officials arrived with a fleet of earthmovers to take possession of land in which lush paddy crops were standing, the farmers protested vociferously. The destruction of standing crops that were to be harvested in two months, the farmers fumed, was nothing but an act of “outrage and insensitivity.”
They now demand higher compensation for their fertile land, besides raising questions over the sustainability of intensive mining operations on plots meant for agriculture. They are not happy with the compensation they had accepted and received a decade ago.
While the public sector undertaking under the Union Ministry of Coal may have its own reasons for delaying taking possession of already acquired lands, the manner in which it sought to bulldoze through standing crops, has stirred a hornet’s nest across Tamil Nadu. The build-up to the protests by the farmers began on July 26, after the NLCIL engaged over 30 earthmovers and flattened large portions of standing crops. This came even amid growing disenchantment over “inadequate compensation and the non-use of the land acquired a decade ago.”
Farmers have been demanding that the NLCIL provide compensation as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which calculates the compensation at the rate of two times the market value in urban areas and four times in rural areas.
Genesis of the problem
The NLCIL had acquired about 304 hectares of land from 2006 to 2015 in six villages abutting the mines. For one acre, farmers were given a compensation ranging from ₹2.6 lakh to ₹6 lakh.
While the farmers were given the compensation, the land remained with the farmers for more than a decade since NLCIL failed to take possession. With the acquired land remaining unused by NLCIL, the farmers had started cultivating crops. It was only in the last one year that NLCIL started the process of taking possession of the land. This is where the problem started.
Meanwhile, land prices have increased manifold and farmers who had enjoyed the benefits by cultivating crops are demanding a higher compensation from the company.
However, the Cuddalore District Administration claimed that it had explicitly told the farmers not to cultivate crops on the acquired land. Of the total 304 hectares acquired by NLCIL, about 273 hectares have already been handed over to the corporation.
For the rest, the NLCIL is also offering enhanced compensation at the rate of ₹25 lakh per acre – it maintains that the acquired lands meant for diversion of the Upper Paravanar canal near Mines 2 are indispensable for the project.
Meanwhile, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which enjoys considerable clout in the region, has also entered the fray with the extreme demand that NLCIL shut down operations and exit the State. The PMK’s president and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Anbumani Ramadoss went on record saying that NLCIL is not a development project, but ‘a destructive project’.
With tempers flaring, the July 28 stir ended in violence. The agitation is being seen as the crux around which the PMK is seeking to build its political and organisational strength to face the Lok Sabha election due next year. Following the violence, various political outfits, including the opposition AIADMK and representatives of various farmers’ associations, expressed their solidarity with the agitating farmers. An end to the crisis is not yet in sight, and only time will tell if this will be a political issue for the upcoming parliamentary polls.