Hardly a week after the Madras High Court stayed land takeover for the controversial Chennai-Salem expressway project and three days to go for the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, Union Surface Minister Nitin Gadkari on Sunday asserted that the project would be implemented after discussions with resisting farmers.
Addressing a meeting at Salem while campaigning for AIADMK candidate Saravanan, Gadkari said the decks would be cleared for the project within the eight-week deadline set by the court to the Government to file its counter-affidavit.
Gadkari said such mega projects were needed for development and it would be implemented by paying adequate compensation, higher than the market rate, to farmers who might lose the land for the project.
This has put the ruling AIADMK in a spot as Gadkari made the announcement on a dais he shared with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami and Pattali Makkal leader S Ramadoss.
While Palanisami pursued the project with vigour because Salem is his native district, Ramadoss was an opponent till he joined the AIADMK led alliance.
The High court verdict is a major setback to Edappdi. It has said that land should not be forcibly acquired from farmers and lands already acquired should be restored to their owners. This is an apparent reference to the use of police force to enable officials to measure lands marked for acquisition.
The court has also said environmental clearance is necessary as the road passes through reserve forests. It has rejected as an eye-wash a preliminary project study done by a private agency.
Gadkari was aware of the court order because he himself referred to it but said the project would be implemented after discussions with the farmers.
His remark led to protest by farmers who have been agitating against it for nearly a year now. They have already rejected the offer of Palanisami that they would be paid one and a half times the market value of the land. They have said they know of no other vocation and money cannot make good loss of livelihood.
Leader of the Opposition and DMK president M K Stalin lambasted Palanisami and Ramadoss for having kept quiet when Gadkari made this announcement.
Calling it a disgrace, he charged that Palanisami cannot raise his voice because he has already got a cutback in the Rs 10,000 project.