The Tamil Nadu Police on Saturday detained Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav and his team in Thiruvannamalai district’s Chengam town. Yadav and his team were on their way to take part in a protest against the proposed eight-lane Chennai-Salem expressway project.

Yadav told that he was detained at a private marriage hall in Eraiyur village since 10.30 am. “All the doors locked with police contingent guarding us. We are under detention,” he said.

“We were prevented from going to meet farmers, phones snatched, manhandled and pushed into police van,” Yadav tweeted. “First hand experience of police state in TN [Tamil Nadu]!”

Yadav claimed he had spoken to District Collector Kandasamy about land acquisition for the expressway project and complained of police excesses. “He completely denied any police interference,” Yadav said. “Within minutes of the phone call, police detained us.”

Yadav claimed that the superintendent of police in Thiruvannamalai said there was a law and order problem due to his presence. Though he clarified that he only wanted to visit the farmers at their home, the police superintendent did not permit it, Yadav said “Gandhian disobedience is the only way out, it seems,” he said.

In the afternoon, Yadav said in an audio message that it had been four-and-a-half hours since they were detained. “So far we have not been given any formal order by the police,” he said. “Are we detained, are we arrested...what is the status?” the Swaraj India leader said police officers came to meet them and said they were waiting for orders from superiors.

Yadav said that his team had heard that that nine farmers who he had met in the morning have been detained. “Nearly 40 other farmers who were waiting in the next village to meet me have also been detained,” he said. Yadav said that he had heard, though it could not be confirmed, that police were going from house to house searching for farmers involved in protests against illegal acquisition of land.

Soundhar, a farmer in Athipadi village in Krishnagiri district, told that at least 35 people including farmers and tourists were detained in Nammiayandal village in Chengam taluk in Thiruvannamalai. Nearly 10 farmers who were returning home after meeting Yadav were also detained, Soundhar said.

Chengam Deputy Superintendent of Police KS Sundaramoorthy had issued an order on September 1, making it incumbent upon anyone wishing to undertake a protest march, dharna, bandh or strike to apply for permission at least 48 hours before the proposed event. The letter was sent to political party leaders, police inspectors in Chengam and police and revenue officials of the Thiruvannamalai district.

However, the Swaraj India leader wrote a letter to Sundaramoorthy in the afternoon, confirming that he had received a detention order, and described it as “illegal”. He said Section 30(2) of the Police Act does not apply to visiting homes of private citizens. Yadav also alleged that the Sundaramoorthy’s September 1 order appeared to be backdated. “As per our information, this notice was not received by any leader of political party or released to media on September 1,” he said. “So the order appears to be an after-thought, prepared post-facto and thus illegal.”

The project

The Rs 10,000-crore expressway project has faced massive opposition, especially from farmers, as thousands of hectares of agricultural land and several hectares of forest land – cutting across five districts and eight reserved forests – have to be acquired.

In August, the Madras High Court said landowners need not be physically dispossessed from their properties for acquisition for the Chennai-Salem expressway project until further orders.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has claimed that only a minuscule percentage of farmers are opposed to the acquisition of land for the project.