Shantha Kumari of Odayamchal village in Kerala’s Kasaragod district is devastated. She fears her dream of constructing a house on her 45 cents of land will never materialise.
The state government has marked a part of Kumari’s land to be acquired for setting up a tower to draw power transmission lines under the Udupi-Kasaragod Transmission Line Project.
Once acquired, Kumari’s land will be bifurcated. Around 400 other families in the locality, too, are facing the same issue.
The Udupi-Kasaragod Transmission Company Ltd (UKTL), a special-purpose vehicle under Sterlite Power Grid Ventures Ltd, is implementing the project with the Kerala State Electricity Board’s (KSEB) backing. The Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (REC), a power finance corporation under the Union Ministry of Power is funding the project.
The families are now protesting against the move to acquire their land. They claimed 85 of the total 91 towers in Kasaragod have already been built. The protesters alleged that the land was acquired from many people by misleading them.
The agitators have founded a platform, Karshaka Raksha Samiti or the Farmers’ Protection Council, demanding adequate compensation for their land.
According to the project abstract published by the KSEB, it “includes the construction of 115 km 400 kV transmission line from Udupi to Kasaragod (46 km), 400kV bay extension at Udupi Power Station and a Greenfield 400kV GIS Substation at Cheemeni in Kasaragod on BOOM (Build, Own, Operate, and Maintain) basis for 35 years”.
The transmission line passes through Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts in Karnataka, and Kasaragod.
As per a report in the Economic Times, UKTL secured funding of ₹580 crore from the REC for the project in June 2021.
Shantha Kumari’s story
Shantha Kumari, a widow, is living with her sister and son in a dilapidated house next to the site where she has been planning to construct a new home.
“Three years ago, a few officials visited our neighbour. They later told that me a tower will be constructed on their property. We were then not informed of the power transmission line project,” Kumari said.
Later, UKTL officials marked a 46-metre line on her property, dividing it into two. Kumari and her sister were out on work when the officials marked the land without their knowledge or permission, she said.
Ever since the land was marked, Kumari and her family have been living in the fear of officials commencing the construction of the tower on their land.
”We were not at home when they drew a red line through the foundation of the planned house. When we enquired, they told us that we cannot build the house there. I don’t know what to do,” Kumari told South First.
Realising the futility of arguing with the officials, Kumari complained to the district collector. The collector reportedly told her that the amount spent on the foundation and funds for buying five cents elsewhere could be granted.
“We complained to the collector, but the collector said that will provide compensation for the foundation that has already been constructed. But the entire property will become useless,” she said.
Since the company initiated the project, Kumari’s application for a home loan was rejected. Further, the panchayat denied her permission to build a house on the marked land.
“We don’t want the development project to stall, but we are seeking fair compensation. We cannot relocate to another area since we are blessed with adequate facilities including drinking water here,” she added.
Demand for adequate compensation
According to Shinooj Chacko, chairman of Karshaka Raksha Samiti, if 46 metres of land from an area is taken, only 15 percent of the price will be awarded as fair value.
Despite losing land, the owners will have to pay property tax, since the land would still be in their names. However, as in the case of Kumari, the owners would not be able to carry out any construction work.
“For instance, for the National Highway project, only 45 metres were used. According to the Land Acquisition Act, the compensation is four to five times the total land area,” he pointed out
“Even for the Kerala government’s water highway project, compensation is provided by the Land Acquisition Act. But here they are saying that the land belongs to us and only a specific area is used for the power project,” Chacko said.
Sathyanathan, a member of the Samiti, concurred. He said unlike providing land to the national highways, the land prices will further go down as people will refrain from buying the land where a high-tension power line passes through.
He further added that it would be an injustice if adequate compensation is not provided to the people.
In April, protesters tried to stop a team led by the district collector and the police to axe trees for the project. However, the protesters’ attempt to deter the district collector did not succeed.
“Since this project comes under the Telegraph Act, if the collector gives an order the police can silence the protesters. Also, they are threatening us that the police are going to invoke non-bailable sections against the protesters,” Chacko told South First.
“Most people here live an ordinary life. If they are forced to fight this legally they will not have the time to do it since they are preoccupied with their daily chores like taking care of their cows or irrigating the fields,” he added.
The Samiti has convened a meeting on 16 May, where a member from each of the 400 families will participate to decide on how to carry forward their protest.
The Karshaka Raksha Samiti is also planning to write a mercy petition to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, highlighting their plight of living in fear of eviction and not getting adequate compensation.
South First’s calls to KSEB chairman Rajan N Khobragade and Kasargode District Collector Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand went unanswered.