A century-old and one of the earliest examples of land conflict had a new turn on Thursday when the historic Panaimarathupatti Lake was freed from encroachers.
In a sudden move, the Salem Corporation, which claims ownership of the 2,137-acre lake, seized 200 acres of cultivated land with the assistance of police.
Located in the picturesque Panaimarathupatti, a valley between the Bodhi and the Jargu Hills, the lake, with a water spread area of 356.45 acre, used to be a favoured shooting spot for films in the past. Several visits by the late Chief Minister MGR throughout his film career have left behind legendary imprints. The British created the lake for providing drinking water to Salem town. A smaller lake that once existed was absorbed into the new one and the agriculturalists were compensated. Those left out or were forced to accept low compensation kept on battling for fair deal. Farmers would go back to their land and cultivate short term crops when the lake went dry in summer.
The Mettur Water Scheme for Salem city reduced the intake from Panaimarathupatti Lake but it continued to feed habitations in Rasipuram Municipality and around Mallur town. However, after new water supply schemes were put in place a decade ago, the lake went out of use completely. Over the years, the inlet channels were choked and the lake went dry for most part of the year. The farmers were back permanently to cultivate with many claiming to be the original owners of the land. Politicisation prevented permanent eviction. Coconut, banana and shorter crops like maize and tapioca were cultivated. Things went thoroughly out of hand and permanent wells were also dug on the lake bed. A major evicting drive in the Nineties resulted in a clash between police and the people which resulted in a firing order. However, after a few such minor evictions and clashes, a major offensive was launched in 2004 and about 400 acres were seized from the encroachers. Approaches to the lake from all sides were fenced off.
Over the years, as Salem Corporation failed to come up with concrete schemes to rejuvenate the lake, although mention would be made in every annual budget, farmers from nearby villages made an aggressive re-entry. Against this backdrop, the Corporation on Thursday launched an eviction drive and brought nearly 200 acres under its control.