Why have 7 Tamil Nadu farmers been detained under Goondas Act for a peaceful protest against land acquisition?

Farmers were protesting peacefully against the Melma SIPCOT industrial project near Cheyyar in Tiruvannamalai district.

ByLaasya Shekhar

Published Nov 16, 2023 | 10:40 PMUpdatedNov 16, 2023 | 10:40 PM

Goondas act used against Tamil Nadu farmers

The Tiruvannamalai District Collector and District Magistrate on Thursday, 16 November, detained seven farmers from the district under the Goondas Act for peacefully protesting against the Melma SIPCOT industrial project. 

Thirumal, Pachaiyappan, Devan, Bakkiyaraj, Masilamani, Sozhan, and Arul — belonging to various villages of Cheyyar and Uthangarai taluks — have been detained in the central prisons of Tiruchy, Madurai, Coimbatore, Vellore, Cuddalore, and Palayamkottai. 

The seven farmers were part of a group of 20 farmers who were arrested on 4 November, based on an FIR filed in August. 

‘Why slap farmers with Goondas Act?’

Tiruvannamalai District Collector B Murugesh, in the detention order accessed by South First, mentioned that the farmers were detained under Sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Cyber Law Offenders, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Sand Offenders, Sexual Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982 — popularly called the Tamil Nadu Goondas Act.

The Act is generally used to prevent dangerous activities prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.

“Why should the government use the Goondas Act that is typically slapped on smugglers, habitual offenders, and rowdy elements on farmers who have indulged in a peaceful protest and who are struggling for the nation’s food security?” asked G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, a Tamil Nadu-based environmental organisation.

“Just because they do not want to give up their lands, it doesn’t make them goondas. Why can’t the government make farmers partners in progress?” he told South First.

Background on the issue

On 4 November, the Tamil Nadu government arrested and remanded 20 farmers, who have been opposed to giving up their wetlands for the Melma SIPCOT industrial project near Cheyyar in Tiruvannamalai. 

Hundreds of farmers in Tiruvannamalai district have been opposing the proposed acquisition of around 3,000 acres of agricultural wetlands by SIPCOT for the purpose of handing over the lands on lease to private industries.

They have been conducting a peaceful sit-in protest on patta lands for more than 100 days now against the proposed acquisition, stated a press release from Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption organisation. 

In the early hours of 4 November, around 2 am, police barged into the houses of farmers, arrested and remanded 20 of them to judicial custody based on an FIR filed in August 2023, the release added. 

According to the statement from Arappor Iyakkam, the FIR was registered when the farmers were walking together for a public hearing. The police stopped them and booked them for unlawful assembly and other sections. The sections under which they were booked has a maximum punishment of five years.

The proposed acquisition will affect the livelihood of farmers; they have been cultivating various crops such as paddy, sugarcane, and groundnut for years.

Also Read: Massive protest by farmers against land acquisition in Telangana

‘Illegal and unconstitutional’

“Instead of acknowledging the concerns of farmers and finding a democratic solution to their demands, the stand of the government to oppress the fundamental rights of farmers to peaceful assembly, free speech and expression is highly condemnable. The act of arrest and remand is illegal and unconstitutional,” stated Arappor Iyakkam. 

Raising the issue, Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai said that the DMK government has been working against the farmers throughout Tamil Nadu.

“We strongly condemn this cowardly act of the DMK government. From this fascist DMK government, we assure you that they will provide full support and legal aid @BJP4TamilNadu to the families to protect the struggling farmers,” he posted on X. 

‘Stalin yet to revoke Act’

When MK Stalin was Leader of Opposition, he said that those with compassion in their heart can talk about farmers.

He had promised to revoke the Tamil Nadu Land Acquisition Laws (Revival of Operation, Amendment and Validation) Act, 2019 passed by the AIADMK government that forcefully acquires land without conducting a social impact study and consent of farmers.

It may be noted that this Act bypasses the Union government’s Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 that mandates the approval of the majority of farmers before acquiring land for a project.

“When he was the Opposition leader, MK Stalin promised to revoke the Act in the first Assembly session. But 2.5 years later, he is using the same Act to attain lands forcefully. After becoming the Chief Minister, MK Stalin stopped being compassionate towards farmers,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, Founder of Arappor Iyakkam.