The Tiruvannamalai Principal District and Sessions Court on Monday, 20 November, granted bail to 20 farmers who were arrested for blocking a road during a protest against the Melma SIPCOT industrial project.
Arrested on 4 November, they had been lodged in various central jails across Tamil Nadu.
According to the First Information Report filed on 29 August, the farmers held up traffic on the road without obtaining the police’s permission.
The Anakkavur Police booked them under Sections 147 (rioting), 143 (committing mischief by doing any act in respect of any public property), 294 (b) (singing, reciting, or uttering any obscene song, ballad, or words in or near any public place), 341 (wrongful restraint), and 353 (using criminal force on public servants) of the IPC.
The farmers were also booked under relevant sections of the Tamil Nadu Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act of 1992.
Seven of them were also charged under the Goondas Act, which was later revoked except in the case of an activist named Arul Arumugam.
“An advisory board in Chennai will look into Arul Arumugam’s case. Since it is not an offence that calls for invoking the Goondas Act, the board will revoke it. But, if the Tamil Nadu government revokes it earlier, his case need not go to the board,” said Advocate M Anbazhagan.
Farmers question minister’s version
Tamil Nadu’s Minister of Public Works, Highways, and Minor Ports EV Velu told reporters last week that Arumugam had instigated the farmers to agitate against the SIPCOT industrial project. The farmers, however, refuted the minister’s version.
“It is ironic that a minister speaks like this. Why can’t a farmer from one district help a peaceful protest in another district?” asked R Soundar, who had taken part in the protest against the eight-lane expressway project.
He claimed that Arumugam did not instigate the farmers. “He never took to violence. The goal was to protect the livelihoods of farmers. Unlike the minister’s statements, the land is not barren. It is fertile. Groundnut, paddy, and sugarcane are grown there,” Soundar told South First.
A woman farmer from Tiruvannamalai, who preferred to remain anonymous, told South First that arresting farmers and detaining them under the Goondas Act was meant to strike fear in the hearts of people.
“We will continue the protest until the Goondas Act against Arul Arumugam is revoked. We have been peacefully protesting for the past 125 days, visiting the collectorate and submitting petitions,” she added.
Call for protest
Meanwhile, four farmers’ organisations formed a committee to stage the protest in 24 districts of Tamil Nadu on Tuesday, 21 November.
The Joint Movement of Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association, Cauvery Farmers’ Association, Tamilaga Vivasayigal Pathukappu Sangam, and Desiya Then India Nadigal Inaipu Vivasayigal Sangam formed the collective called the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigalin Porattu Kuzhu to conduct the protests against the project.
The members of the collective would also stage a mass hunger strike in Chennai on 29 November.
“At least 100 farmers will take part in each district on 21 November. It will be held in front of collectorates or at a public place in the heart of the city,” said AP Raveendran, the general secretary of the Joint Movement of Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Associations.
He added that the protests would not affect vehicular traffic. Raveendran also said that farmers should be paid the market value if the government acquired their properties.