Land Grab for Liquor Factory in Tamil Nadu

The party is conducting an agitation in Kallakottai, a panchayat in Gandarvakottai block of Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu, against a liquor factory which is coming up on fertile land at the cost of livelihood of over 30,000 poor peasants and agricultural labourers in over 30 villages.

The construction work for the factory started all of a sudden on 20 acres of fertile land in the beginning of August. Local people had no idea what was being constructed; they came to know only when some workers from the neighbouring villages were denied work and those from Trichy were brought in to work at the site. Then an investigation was conducted by the party, which revealed that a liquor factory was coming up, and that too based on faked documents like panchayat No Objection Certificate, environment authorities’ clearance etc. Further investigation about the factory revealed that the factory will draw 6.21 lakh litres of water per day for its operations and only 200 jobs will be generated. Construction work was started and bore wells were dug without due approval. The investigation also exposed that the local bigwigs and ruling party leaders were well aware of the project and only the people were kept in dark.

As Party took up a campaign against the factory explaining the impending dangers to the resources, particularly ground water, those in support of the factory started campaigning that the factory would generate employment for thousands in the area.

To begin with, a memorandum was sent to all concerned government departments and the CM, demanding an immediate stop to factory construction. The Kallakottai panchayat president’s husband acts as the de-facto president. The panchayat presindent and her husband, both were gheraoed and an explanation for the NOC sought from them. When the husband started explaining, people insisted that only the president would answer. The president simply said that she just did not know that a liquor factory was planned there. Party demanded, in that case, the president should pass a resolution in the panchayat that the permission given for the factory must be cancelled and send it to the collector. The president had to promise a panchayat meeting on this agenda in a week and had to pass the resolution as demanded.

A campaign was taken up by the party in more than 10 panchayats in and around the factory. The campaign was well received, and people united across caste and party lines: mostly poor peasants and agricultural laborers who would lose their livelihood to the liquor factory.
As the campaign gathered momentum and people’s support for the campaign increased, the local administration called for a meeting at a short notice. Sensing foul play, people foiled this attempt and meeting could not be held as planned by the RDO. This compelled the RDO to invite the Party. The party in turn demanded to hold the meeting in public. There was a mobilization from all the affected villages and the meeting was held in their presence.

Our campaign ensured that the meeting would only discuss time-bound removal of the factory, and all attempts of the administration to convince people about the ‘benefits’ of the factory failed miserably. Local DMK chairman was subdued by the united will of the people when he tried to get an upper hand. The MLA, who is from CPI, had to fall in line when he tried talking in support of the project. We put forward 3 demands – immediate scrapping of the liquor factory; apology by district administration for failing to take people into account before giving any permission to the factory should apologize to the people; and payment of Rs 1 crore by factory management, which has already caused damage to the area, to the people as compensation. We issued an ultimatum, as a result of which the construction and bore-well digging work were stopped in the factory.

We took up a campaign in 20 panchayats in and around Kallakottai and demanded that a resolution against the factory must be passed in the August 15 Gram Sabha meetings. Kallakottai Panchayat did so. On August 26, a ‘Conference Against Liquor Factory and For Security of Agrarian Workers and Poor Peasants’ was held. Comrade Balasundaram, Party State Secretary, addressed this gathering which was attended by more than 250 villagers.

The RDO was then replaced and the new one tried to subvert the struggle by convening an informal meeting with the ‘supporters’ of the factory. But as people came to know about this and the Party was informed, we invited media and mobilized hundreds of villagers and proceeded toward the venue and filled all the seats before those who were actually ‘invited’ for the meeting could arrive. As there was no formal invitation for anybody, the RDO was not able to forbid people from attending the meeting. A local bigwig owing allegiance to the Congress and a strong supporter of the factory, refused to sit along with the people. Finally the meeting could not take place!

Pudukottai was the venue for the 8th State Party Conference held on October 9 and 10, and comrades were in the middle of preparations. The factory management and the administration wanted to avail this opportunity and to start work in the factory. On 6th of October, people found a priest heading for the factory to perform pooja. They stopped him and sent him back. Leaders spoke to the Tahsildar and DSP, who denied any attempt on the part of the factory to begin work. More than 1000 villagers including over 300 women gathered near the factory. Some supporters of the factory were allowed inside the factory by the police. When questioned about this, the police said it is only a pooja and people are attending that. When those opposing the factory tried to enter the factory premises, they were stopped by the police who used abusive language and started attacking the people, leaving many injured. The Tahsildar apologized to the people for the police action. A DMK leader along with a local bigwig, Ambalam, came to the factory in 5 vehicles but they were chased away from the place. Work in the factory could not be started due to the relentless struggle of the people.

Now the police have registered false cases against 19 party activists including Com. Aasaithambi, District Secretary and SCM of the Party. A public meeting was planned on October 18 against the police’s barbaric lathi-charge. But the permission was denied on the ground that Kallakottai is a ‘troubled area’. We have now planned to intensify the campaign in the area against any attempt to reopen the factory.

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