Thervoy Kandigai Dalits’ Struggle against Special Economic Zone.

Wednesday 10 November 2010 by Integrated Rural Development Society -IRDS , Héloise Squelbut


In South India, the government of Tamil Nadu created the SIPCOT in 1971, which was supposed to be an accelerator and a catalyst in the development of industrial parks on the state’s territory. Against a background of widespread economic liberalisation in the late 90s, the SIPCOT’s mission extended and its volume of activity increased. Within 30 years, the SIPCOT developed 19 industrial parks on a 16,975-acre surface area and facilitated the establishment of 1,882 Indian and foreign production units.

The industrial development-oriented dynamics of expropriations and land redistribution soared in the last four years with the implementation of government decisions on the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). In 4 years, the government of Tamil Nadu signed 25 commercial agreements with transnational corporations, out of which 18 have had or will have the establishment of their factory facilitated by the SIPCOT.

Since March 2007, commercial agreement have been executed on part of the territory of the village of Thervoy Kandigai, 40 km away from Chennai, for the establishment of several industrial production units on a 1,205-acre surface area. A significant part of those lands that were purchased by the SIPCOT were covered by a forest, which enabled the 1,500 mostly Dalit families to secure an agricultural economy (food crops, cattle breeding), and which guaranteed total food safety at village level. The announcement of the acquisition of the forest by the SIPCOT triggered an unprecedented mobilisation of villagers, first in the form of non-violent protests that were followed by legal actions against the SIPCOT and by the use of international mechanisms.


private actor :
Transnational Company (the name can’t be communicated yet)

public actors :

  • State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT)
  • The Tamil Nadu Control Board : Office of the Environment and Forests Department in charge of studying environmental problems and granting permits before launching industrial projects.

Main actors of the civil society :

  • Integrated Rural Development Society (IRDS) . Has worked for nearly 30 years with Dalits communities and created the NGO network Dalit Land Right Federation (DLRF) in 2001.
  • The Dalit Land Right Federation (DLRF) (founded in 2001 by 15 NGO working with Dalits in Northern Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to focus on land issues. DLRF covers an important part of Dalits communities in these areas. Skills of residents, especially of the younger generations, are strengthened to master the legal basis enabling them to defend the rights of their community. Three major objectives have been identified: respect of Indian law on the prevention of atrocities (Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989), access of Dalits to common resources and access to lands (Panchami Land).
  • National Federation of Dalits Land Rights Movements (NFDLRM) It gathers 14 Dalit Land Right Federations from 14 different states. Its main activity is lobbying at the national level.
  • Thervoy Village People Development and Welfare Sangam
  • CCFD-Terre solidaire (Comité contre la Faim et pour le développement) French NGO for development.



  • March 13-17 2007 : Peaceful protest during four days in the form of hunger strike, closing down of schools and shops
  • March 17 2007: Meeting with the District Councillor accompanied by the local Representative (Mr. K.S Vijayakumar). The meeting ended in promise of suspending the project until the SIPCOT got the consent of the population. This promise has never been recognised.


  • August 31 2008: Decision by the State to hand over 290 acres of land to the foreign company. On hearing the news, the Thervoy people sent petitions to SIPCOT and to all concerned authorities.
  • October 2 2008: On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and of the Panchayat gram saba (1), release of a resolution against the setting up of the industrial park, demonstration, division into different groups to meet the public authorities and political party leaders. The Panchayat (2) President accompanied them and supported the written resolution.


  • January 2 to 9 2009: Faced with the indifference of the authorities, villagers organised hunger strikes again, blocked the traffic, announced a « bandh »(3). Against the arrest of some demonstrators,, the villagers organized a long peaceful march (18 km) which resulted in their release.
  • January 17 200 : Publication of an article in the Economic Newspaper relating that the State had decided to hand over 290 acres to the foreign company.
  • January 22 2009: The SIPCOT accompanied by a contingent of armed police started clearing the forest.
  • January 23-26, February 26 2009: The protestors met a representative of the SIPCOT in Chennai and negotiated with him. The negotiations having failed, the people boycotted the Republic Day special Gram Sabha.

In the meantime, a massive demonstration was held in the capital city of Chennai in which Dalit from surrounding villages also participated. 300 demonstrators were arrested during this protest.

The villagers, understanding that the peaceful protests were not sufficient, first decided to take the issue to the High Court of Chennai with the support of Dalit Land Right Federation.DLRF.

  • February 2009: A first appeal was filed before the High Court of Chennai by the Villagers Association lawyers. After three months, the High Court issued its first ruling and ordered on May 12 2009 to suspend the project for six months. Meantime, protected by police, SIPCOT personnel had already cut down half of the forest, without legal authorization.
  • May 25,2009: Repeal of the ruling by two judges of the Court of Chennai who authorized the continuation of the project but without cutting trees. Noting this discreet reversal, the NGO coalition lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court of India for the annulment of this second decision. The Supreme Court recommended them to wait for the decision of the Court of Chennai’s final ruling before reiterating their appeal.
  • September 16 2009: the Court of Chennai delivered its ruling. The lawyers of the Villagers Association having informed the Court that SIPCOT had violated its decision of May 12 2009 by cutting down trees without authorization, a check subsequently took place in the field by officials of the Court and of the Forest Department, accompanied by the lawyers who provided proofs (photographs) of the basis of the complaints and counts. Compensation (in terms of new land distribution and replacement of houses) must be granted to 16 families displaced by the industrial unit’s development.
  • September 2009: Dalits Lands Rights Federation is informed by the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum that the Special UN Rapporteur for Food Rights would be visiting Tamil Nadu in the month of March. It then decided to file a communication to the Special Rapporteur. (See note to the guide entitled How to mobilize against a private or public project violating rights to housing and/or land),

The villagers of Thervoy, on the advice of DLRF, have joined the Anti SEZ movement to enlarge and strengthen the protest.

  • October 23 to 26 2009: The Anti SEZ movement (regrouping many villages) decided to conduct a Public Hearing and to write a report about the grabbing that the two government’s agencies of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT et TITCO) were leading. This report was submitted to the national Government. Moreover an article titled « the Government’s Land Grab » was published in one of the leading newspaper in India :
  • December 2009: The representatives of the National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movements met the Ministers in charge of Rural Development and department of lands affairs, Environment and Forest, Social Justice, and Empowerment, Agriculture, and the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste to ask them to intervene immediately to protect the Thervoy village. According to IRDS, all these ministries transferred the memorandum to the State Government demanding an immediate response.

Nicholas of IRDS explains that this national Commission of Scheduled Castes is a constitutional body that conveys Dalits’ claims on a regular basis to both federal and national states. This commission may also interfere with government’s policies when they are against Dalits’ interests.


  • January 17 2010: the Dalit Land Rights Federation NGO network lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court of India in response to the confirmation of an agreement between a company and the Tamil Nadu’s government for the sale of a significant portion of the land. This appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the findings of the court ruling have not, as of yet, been honored. Construction work of the production unit goes on, even though the court ruling strictly forbids the continuation of any construction while families directly affected have not been rehoused and compensatory acres of land allocated to the village. Residents of Thervoy and their lawyers, with the support of IRDS/DLRF, of the Anti-SEZ movement and other solidary organizations, are working at defining future actions.
  • March 28 and 29 2010 : The UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, Mr Olivier de Schutter, visited the village. During his visit, the representatives of the village expressed their views.
  • April 19 and 20 2010: The social movements working in India on the issue of Special Economic Zones have come together in Delhi to conduct a public hearing on the impact of these zones in India. Five representatives of Thervoy Village participated and gave their testimonies.

Today, the situation has not yet been definitely settled for Dalit communities of the Thervoy village. Consultations between the government agency, the company that plans to establish itself and local communities are still ongoing.

Notes :

(1) Meeting (two per years) in which all the villagers above 18 years old must go.
(2) The Panchayat is a tradition of the South Asian political system; it is an assembly of wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the community.
(3) Form of protest used by political activists in some countries like India and Nepal. During a Bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike: people stay at home, shops close down, transports don’t work. The Supreme Court of India tried to "ban" bandhs but political parties still organize them.

This article is based on :
Interview with Sylvain Ropital (Project Officer in charge of South Asia in CCFD : Comité catholique contre la faim et pour le développement)
Interview with Nicholas Chinappan (Founder member and Director of IRDS (Integrated Rural Development Society)

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