the District Collector said “We will not hesitate to arrest you under the Goondas Act if you are doing something against the government”. Not only that, he also threatened the people by narrating the Sterlite shooting incident.
“Let us live in peace; Struggle has become our life; We have fought against the Jindal Group, the agitation against the eight-lane expressway, the fight against the garbage dump. Now we are fighting against the setting up of SIPCOT Industrial Park by taking away our lands and driving us out of the village. We will never give up our land. We will not hesitate to die during the struggle”.
The SIPCOT Industrial Park referred by the protesting people is proposed to be setup in the rural areas in and around Paliyapattu panchayat – Chinna Paliyapattu, Pazhaya Colony, Puthiya Colony, Selvapuram, Anna Nagar, Mariamman Nagar, Chinna Punalkadu, Arunthathiyar Colony, Vaniyambadi – located 10 km from Chengam taluk of Tiruvannamalai district. SIPCOT will be set up by destroying farmlands and Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills and thereby destroying the environment and livelihood of the people. People from nine villages have engaged in a continuous agitation for over 54 days against setting up of SIPCOT Industrial Park, which will engulf roughly 1,500 acres of land and 500 houses, for the benefit of corporate bosses.
Chengam block of Tiruvannamalai district is the area where a variety of agricultural commodities including paddy, groundnut and flowers are grown. Realizing that the establishment of SIPCOT industrial park would result in the loss of agricultural land and the houses they had traditionally lived in, and that they will be turned into refugees in their own country, the nine villagers immediately convened a gram sabha meeting and decided to oppose the SIPCOT industrial park. Moreover, people from the villages around Paliyapattu panchayat came together by breaking caste barriers and formed a protest organisation called “SIPCOT Ethirpu Vivasaya Makkal Iyakkam” (Anti SIPCOT Peasant’s Movement). They declared that the agitation will continue until the plan for SIPCOT is completely abandoned. They convened a gram sabha meeting on the third day (24.12.2021) of the continuous protests and passed a resolution urging the government not to set up the SIPCOT industrial park in the area under the jurisdiction of their village to protect their interests.
SIPCOT Ethirpu Vivasaya Makkal Iyakkam has been organising many protests continuosly including demonstrations, hoisting black flags in the houses, picketing government offices, boycotting Pongal festival & announcing it as a black day, etc. The agitations have been going on for over 50 days but the TN government didn’t pay any attention. Majority of the media averted from this issue.
Lethargy and Arrogance of power
In an interview to BBC Tamil regarding this issue, Chengam DMK MLA M.P.Giri arrogantly said that “agriculture is not properly carried out in and around Paliyapattu; There are other things that take place by setting up huts; If SIPCOT industrial park comes up, proper relief will be provided to the affected lands and houses’’.
On the fifth day of the protest, Minister E.V. Velu said in Chengam East said that “a few fake farmers are wearing green towels and holding a fake demonstration; We will not give space to it; The SIPCOT industrial park will definitely be set up in that area”, he told reporters there.
On the ninth day of the ongoing agitation, the District Collector did not even bother to meet the people (more than 250 gathered) who had attended the farmers’ grievance redressal meeting at the Tiruvannamalai collectorate. Inviting only 10 people to his bungalow separately, he said “We will not hesitate to arrest you under the Goondas Act if you are doing something against the government”. Not only that, he also threatened the people by narrating the Sterlite shooting incident.
On the 36th day, when the gram sabha was to pass a resolution again that SIPCOT, the government cancelled the meeting. On the 45th day, more than 500 villagers came together to file 424 RTI petitions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with 25 questions against the SIPCOT land acquisition. The Collector showed disrespect towards the people by receiving the petitions through his assistant.
The protesting history of the people
Earlier, in 2006, Jindal entered into an agreement with TIMCO (Tamil Nadu Iron Ore Mining Corporation Limited), belonging to the Tamilnadu government, to mine iron ore in an area of 23 hectares in the Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills for 10 years. Thus, the extraction of iron ore from the soil threatened to completely destroy the livelihood, water resources and agricultural lands of 55 villages in the vicinity of Kavuthi Hills.
In 2008, democratic forces along with the people of 55 villages, including the Paliyapattu area, formed the Tiruvannamalai Kavuthi and Vediyappan Hills Protection Association under the leadership of Balakrishnan and protested against the project given to Jindal. As a result, the contract was abandoned for the time being. Then, in 2014, another agreement was signed with Jindal. It was stopped as a result of series of campaigns and determined agitations by the association.
In 2018, the ADMK government brought in the Salem-Chennai eight-lane expressway project. It was suspended as a result of continuous protests organised by Movement Against Eight-Lane Expressway against the project.
In January 2022, more than 500 people of Paliyapattu panchayat staged a road blockade to protest against the dumping of urban garbage in the Periya Punalkadu area. Due to the continuous agitation by the people, the government has put on hold the landfill project. Thus, in the last few years alone, the people of the area have been engaged in a series of protests against various detrimental projects.
The Tamilnadu government has now resorted to a conspiratorial process of handing over the land and the Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills to the corporates in the name of SIPCOT, industrial development and employment opportunities, as the agreements with the corporates for direct mining of iron ore have faced stiff opposition. Wearing a mask called SIPCOT, the TN government is persuading to allow the corporates to chase away the villagers of Paliyapattu and surrounding areas and plunder the Kavuthi Hills. Highways Minister E.V.Velu’s speech also reveals that this project will be implemented in full swing.
Is Corporate land grabbing development?
Paliyapattu and the villages in its vicinity doesn’t even have proper road and bus facilities. Private minibus which came into village for a few years had now been stopped. Construction of roads in Selvapuram, Punalkadu, Arunthathiyar Nagar, Mariamman Nagar had been stopped halfway. The people are commuting through the rough sand roads. The students have to walk a distance of 3 km daily to reach the school. This locality doesn’t have any medical facility even for emergency care. Paliyapattu and its surrounding villages are isolated from the rest of Tamilnadu like an island. This area, which lacks even the basic amenities, relies on agriculture for its subsistence.
“We are filling our stomachs with goats and cows; If SIPCOT comes, the entire land will be destroyed; They will suck the entire groundwater; Our family would have to wander for drinking water; Where can we go and live if we are driven out of this place?” says a woman from Punalkadu, who participated in the protest.
The TN government is trying to displace the people for the benefit of the corporates and calls it as ‘growth’. A day after the people of Paliyapattu passed a resolution against the SIPCOT project, the government officials persuaded a group of people belonging to 10 villages to pass a resolution in favour of SIPCOT. The people of Paliyapattu have been monitored day and night by the police and the intelligence.
During a discussion in the 2021 assembly session, the DMK government had said that it would start such industrial parks not only in Tiruvannamalai but also in 10 other areas.
It is the practice of all the votebank parties to whip up against the recolonizational policies of privatization-liberalisation-globalization when they are in opposition and aggressively implement the same in the name of “development, progress and employment” when they come to power. The experience we gain from the actions of the DMK government is also the same.
The looting of the Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills is not just an issue related to the livelihood of the people of that locality. It is a part of the corporate fascistic assault on the country and crores of people, similar to the projects like eight-lane expressway, Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Koodankulam nuclear power plant, nuclear waste storage facility, neutrino laboratory, etc. The people of Dhinkia in Odisha continue to protest against the destructive Jindal. The people of Chhattisgarh are fighting against the looting of the mineral resources by the corporates. Today’s crucial task for the working people is to stand hand-in-hand with the people of Paliyapattu in their struggle and to launch united struggles of the working people from all walks of life against corporate looting.