Wayanad: Fears of a looming agrarian crisis have forced the people of Wayanad to escalate their protest against the proposal to impose a 24-hour travel ban on a 19-km stretch on NH 766, it is learnt.
More than 7,000 farmers in Wayanad and in Gudalur taluk of Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu have taken up cultivation of ginger, plantain, flowers and vegetables on leased lands in Gundalpet, 55 km from Sulthan Bathery, and adjoining areas. The alternative route via Kutta and Gonikoppa will entail a travel of 255 km, and will make farming an unviable proposition, they fear.
The protests erupted after the Supreme Court directed the Union government to explore the possibility of extending the 10 pm-6 am ban on traffic on the stretch passing through Bandipur tiger reserve to 24 hours.
“We took up farming in Gundalpet after the droughts devastated our pepper farms in the last decade,” Ginger Growers Association president V. Jose told DC. “This kept us off from committing suicide when farmers elsewhere were taking the extreme step. That option will be closed along with the total travel ban.”
The farmers are sore that even the state government did not bring up their case in the apex court.
“The affidavit filed by the state in the court refers only the distance between Kozhikode and Mysore which is just 40 kilometers more than NH 766 through the alternative road, but it is silent about the plight of farmers and labourers living on both sides of the border,” said Anto George of NH Transport Protection Committee.
Some farmers double up as traders and wholesale vegetable dealers bringing thousands of tons vegetables across border into the state from Karnataka, Mr Jose said.
If the road is closed, it would also affect farming activity back in Wayanad as the farm sector of the district now depends the labour force from Karnataka for cultivation, Mr Jose pointed out.
The Supreme Court made the suggestion of total ban on traffic as nobody presented the farmers’ case before it, Mr George said. “The people who reside on the two sides of the jungle have depending the NH for generations. Many of us travel daily to the farm through the NH 766.” It seems the state government is not at all concerned about us, he said.
The national highway development work in the state will resume soon with the centre issuing an order allowing the state to bear 25 percent of the Rs 21,000-crore expenses for it.
The tripartite agreement between the state, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) in this respect will be signed in New Delhi on October 9.
The six/four-laning of the 687-km Thalapady-Karode of NH 66 stretch has been divided into 20 zones as per the advice of MoRTH officials. A total of 1176 hectares of land has to be acquired and over Rs 20 crore is needed to acquire one hectare of land. The KIIFB will give Rs 6, 000 crore as grant to the NHAI for the partial funding of Thalapady-Karode stretch. As per the central government norm, any work requiring over Rs 1000 crore has to get the nod of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
A top PWD official told DC that 75 percent of the funds for NH development will be released after the agreement is signed.
"Funds for two of the projects, Thalassery-Mahe bypass and Kozhikode bypass, have been sanctioned. The state government will release 25 percent of the expenses from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) to NHAI in the current fiscal and the work will resume soon.
This followed the tough talk given by Union Minister of Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari to his officials following Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's meeting with him in New Delhi.