Seventy-year-old Thomas Pulikal, a former farmer, once owned an acre of land in Kottiyoor of Kannur district, where he also had a house, livestock and rubber plantation. But in 2012, his land was acquired by the state government for an elephant project, and he was evicted. For his land and property, he received around Rs 6 lakhs, which he used to pay off a few debts and bought 10 cents (4356 square-feet) of land. He had to take a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh to buy a small house.
But Thomas can’t hold back his anguish. “We had a good house. Now we live in a house with tin sheets as a roof and without paint on the walls. I have three sons and I can only give them this 10 cents of land. Before, we lived very well from earrings from our farmland,” he said.
Around 12 families gave up their properties for the Periya-Kottiyoor elephant corridor project proposed by the central government in the mid-1990s. The project was intended to reduce man-animal conflicts in Kannur and Wayanad districts by enabling a path for elephants through the corridor. The land acquisition took place in 2010 and farmers were evicted in 2012. Around 30 hectares of land was acquired in 2010. And though the land was acquired from 12 families, there were nearly 60 individuals who could claim ownership over it.
According to the market value of the land in 2012, the property and house should have been worth Rs 20 lakh, Thomas alleges. The land value was calculated by the government as Rs 1208 per cent at that time, but Thomas says the market value of the land was actually Rs 10,000 per cent. Moreover, he lost his source of income.
Devasy, another farmer who lost two acres of land, is also in a similar situation. He has no idea how he will repay the debt he took on to find another house. “We had enough land to earn a livelihood. They paid me only Rs 10 lakh. We had rubber plantations, livestock, coconut, pepper and more. Now we have a small area with a house that is under debt,” he said.
"We went to the court seeking more compensation as the amount we got was not even half the market price. Many of the families who lost land are living in rented houses. Many, including me, do daily wage work for a living. We were once land owners and are now workers," Devasy says.
Five months ago, the Thalassery court ordered a compensation of Rs 7000 per cent for the farmers. The Kerala government appealed to the High Court, but they haven't given the money at HC as remittance while appealing in the Land Acquisition cases, the farmers say.
Thomas says that most of them are aged and sick and that they can no longer fight. "Five among us died. Many of us are aged. Here we leave nothing for our sons and daughters other than huge debt. Whatever we earned out of hard work was lost," he added.
These farmers are seeking justice as soon as possible, so they can pay off their debts.
For the Periya-Kottiyoor elephant corridor project, the government plans to acquire 131.5 hectares, with 36.5 hectares in Kannur district and 95 hectares in Wayanad district, in five phases. As per the project, some more families have to be evicted. More than 170 families have yet to be evicted from Wayanad district.