Protests Escalate in Tamil Nadu as Farmers Challenge SIPCOT Project: Allegations of Coercion Emerge

Chennai: In a recent meeting, the Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Federation passed resolutions, urging the withdrawal of cases against farmers opposing the Melma-SIPCOT project. The federation also demanded the revocation of the Goondas Act imposed on farmer leader A Arul, who is also an environmental activist.

The farmers' group appealed to Chief Minister M K Stalin to remove Minister E V Velu for making divisive remarks. They called for the withdrawal of cases filed against farmers by the Tiruvannamalai district collector and police and insisted on abandoning projects requiring agricultural land acquisition.

Farmers in Melma and nearby villages have been protesting for over 120 days against the acquisition of 3,174 acres for the proposed SIPCOT phase III project at Cheyyar. Recent arrests and the imposition of the Goondas Act sparked public outcry, leading to Chief Minister Stalin’s order to revoke the act on six farmers.

Minister Velu defended the government’s intention to provide jobs, accusing “outsiders” of creating trouble. Allegations of coercion emerged as an old man denied government claims that protests were instigated by Arul, revealing a video where he asserts his son’s voluntary participation.

Anti-corruption watchdog Arappor Iyakkam demanded the release of farmers and shared a video contradicting government officials’ claims of instigation by Arul. The video features an old man denying coercion, stating his son participated willingly in the protest.

Chief Minister Stalin, in a statement, justified invoking the Goondas Act initially, citing allegations of obstructing officials, disrupting public order, and preventing farmers from voluntarily parting with their land. Six of the seven detainees were released after family appeals.

Devan’s father denied that his son had supported the protest, while Devan’s wife, D Kalaiselvi, mentioned that some DMK members intimidated the family and coerced her father-in-law to speak against his son. In that video, Devan’s father said, “Sir, I am Devan’s father speaking. Yesterday, around 2, 10 people from the DMK came to my house and called my daughter-in-law to come to the Taluk office and sign the papers. She was scared, and she said she wouldn’t go. So they called my wife, and she also refused to go. Then they forced me to go with them. I went and sat in the car, and they took me to Cheyyar. We went with MLA Jyothi. On the way, they asked to say this and that. I listened to everything and told the same to Minister Velu. I don’t know anything else. But no one instigated anything. Neither Arul nor anyone else instigated us on this. Arul didn’t call my son. My son went on his own.”

As allegations of coercion and manipulation come to light in the detained farmer’s family, the incident adds a new dimension to the already contentious SIPCOT project protests. The video raises questions about the methods employed by DMK members and underscores the complexity of the situation, further fueling demands for a thorough investigation and fair treatment of the protesting farmers. The situation remains tense as farmers continue their struggle against land acquisition, prompting widespread support and calls for justice.

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