Braving torrential rains and biting cold, 200-odd farmers and labourers are engaged in preparing the 350-acre paddy field cluster in Cheekkalloor, the site identified for the proposed feeder airport project in Wayanad. The farmers are working with an extra spring under their feet. For, apart from hoping for a good harvest, they will have to prove the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) wrong.
It all started with a brochure distributed by the KSIDC to promote the controversial project, after the Airports Authority of India found the site suitable for setting up a feeder airport. According to the four-page multi-colour leaflet, the paddy fields in Cheekalloor, the largest remaining paddy cluster in Wayanad, had been lying fallow for a long time.
“It is business as usual for us. Last season, farmers in Cheekkalloor had contributed over 526 tonnes of the total 2,000 tonnes of paddy the government procured from Wayanad. We want our lush, green paddy fields to drive home the message that the KSIDC leaflet was error-laden,” said Muraleedharan M S, a farmer and executive committee member of the Cheekkalloor-Eranelloor-Mechery Krishibhoomi Samrakshana Samithi, which is spearheading the agitation against the project.
Farmers fear that the project will wipe off around 500 acres of paddy field from the state’s agri-map. “It’s a big project and it is difficult to make every piece of information perfect and precise. That brochure was based on the data provided by the local village office. It was not necessary to crosscheck the information since it came from a government authority,” said a KSIDC official, who did not want to be named.
“The techno-economic feasibility study on the project is still on. A contour survey has to be carried out next. But, it would not be possible without the cooperation of the local people,” he added. According to the data provided by the agricultural officer, Panamaram Grama Panchayat, under the Right to Information Act, an amount of `1,57,031 had been distributed last season among the farmers residing in Ward No. 10 of the panchayat, which comes under the proposed site.
“A major chunk of that amount was distributed among the farmers under the state government’s Sustainable Development of Rice-Based Farming System. Why did the government spend that much amount if the agriculture land was barren?,” asks M K Venugopal, another farmer.
“Farmers here have opted for both traditional rice varieties such as Gandhakasala, Veliyan and Chennellu and modern varieties like Athira and Uma. We have already started the preparatory cultivation practices like ploughing. The sowing will begin next week,” he said.