People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 05

January 29, 2012

Rural Distress and Land Mafia in Tamilnadu

S P Rajendran


THE Chennai city police recently booked former DMK legislator B Ranganathan as the prime accused in the brutal murder of a young man who was fighting against land grabbing in Avadi on the outskirts of Chennai.


S Bhuvaneswaran, 38, a CPI(M) supporter, was hacked to death in front of his four years old daughter in Kolathur on January 10, 2012. Bhuvaneswaran had filed RTI applications to retrieve titles on about 18 acres of land belonging to his family and other acquaintances after a gang, allegedly led by the former DMK MLA, had forcibly occupied the plots. He was in the process of filing more RTI applications to help other owners strengthen their claims on roughly 82 acres of encroached land in Veerapuram near Avadi.


The prime accused, Ranganathan, is among several former DMK MLAs and ministers who have been booked on land grabbing charges after the AIADMK government took over. Ranganathan was arrested in August 2011 on a similar land grab charge but was released on bail. Subsequently, he was detained under the Goondas Act, a stringent law.


Bhuvaneswaran’s father Siva, who worked as a ticket examiner in the State Express Transport Corporation, said in his complaint that a group of people backed by Ranganathan had occupied 100 acres of land, including 30 acres belonging to the former and his friend Madhavan. Bhuvaneswaran had fought a legal case, filed many RTI applications and staged demonstrations to attract the government’s attention. He managed to recover more than 18 acres, and had filed more RTI applications to retrieve the rest.


Earlier, the state also saw an attack on leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) including Thoothukudi district secretary K Kanagaraj, by the land mafia who are trying to occupy nearly 915 acres of fertile land in Theivaseyalpuram village. Here too, the land grabbers are led by a DMK functionary and advocate called Selvam. The land which they have been trying to grab is prime land situated near the Thoothukudi airport and on the Thirunelveli-Thiruchendur highway. But there has so far been no arrest of the goons who attacked the CPI(M) cadre. CPI(M) state secretary G Ramakrishnan has vehemently condemned this lethargy of the state police.


However, the arrest of DMK’s former ministers and leading functionaries took place on the charges of land grabbing.


On January 23, former DMK minister Vellakovil Swaminathan was arrested for his involvement in a land grabbing case. He was the fifth DMK minister who has been sent to jail over such an allegation. Veerapandi Arumugam, N K K P Raja, K Ponmudi and K N Nehru were the four other former DMK ministers who were arrested and sent to jail, though they later managed to get bail.


Here it may be mentioned that a complaint has been lodged against M K Stalin too, who has been accused of pressurising a man to sell a property in Chennai in a low rate to one of his relatives. Stalin is DMK chief M Karunanidhi’s younger son and was the deputy chief minister during the DMK’s tenure in Tamilnadu.


Karunanidhi’s grandson, Udayanidhi Stalin, a film director and producer, was also interrogated in the same case.


In regard to this very case, Stalin had had surrender himself before the investigation officers on January 5, after receiving an order from the Madras High Court.


The above cases are just a few examples of the massive land grabbing which has taken place for the past five years. According to the police, over 20,000 land grab complaints have been received since the regime change in the state. The complaints are against not only DMK men, but also against those of the AIADMK, the Congress and the PMK. Some corporate houses and IT companies too have indulged in land grabbing. Chennai’s suburbs and in particular the adjoining Kancheepuram district have seen a spurt in land grabbing incidence, as real estate prices have shot up in the area of late. The latter district has become the preferred choice of IT and multinational companies, including auto makers, in view of its proximity to Chennai.


With Tamilnadu in the middle of an unprecedented real estate boom and urbanisation, land is being bought and sold at exorbitant and ever increasing prices. Land transactions are a significant source of revenue to the registration department whose income increased 30 per cent during 2010-2011 compared to the previous year’s Rs 3,818 crore.


However, while the rich people take it as an indication of the so called growth, in terms of real economy this is an indication of the deep rooted and growing rural distress in the state.


According to the 2011 census data, more people in Tamilnadu have moved from rural to urban areas in the last 10 years, compared to any other state. Tamilnadu ranks high in the list of urbanised states with 48.45 per cent of its population living in urban areas, followed by Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat in that order. Though the census data show Goa as the most urbanised state with 62.17 per cent of the population living in urban areas, Tamilnadu is the most urbanised state if one goes by geographical area and total population.


The rate of urbanisation in Tamilnadu has been rapid in the last 20 years. According to the 1991 census, only 34.15 per cent of the total population in Tamilnadu was classified as urban, but it has risen to 48.45 per cent in 2011, an increase of 14.3 per cent. Since the 2001 census, the percentage of urban population has risen by 4.41 per cent.


The census authorities have explained that people have taken up non-agricultural occupations in many districts, even if they have studied up to class eight only. Such areas are classified as urban even though they are surrounded by fields. But in reality the rural mass is being driven out from agriculture and their own lands due to the deepening agricultural crisis. They are migrating from their own places to the state capital (Chennai) and industrial cities like Coimbatore and Tiruppur to find jobs. The younger generations are moving even to Bangalore and other big cities outside Tamilnadu. It is thus that Chennai and the adjoining districts, Coimbatore, Tiruppur and port towns like Thoothukudi are now highly urbanised.


With the help of ruling politicians and bureaucrats, the land mafias are using this situation of rural distress to grab lands on a massive scale in the state.


So far the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been the only political party to take up this issue and organise protests in the state. The fight continues.