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Farmers' fury

Print edition : Oct 08, 2010 T+T-

In three districts of Haryana, they have been agitating against the land acquisition policy of the State government.

in Faridabad, Fatehabad and Palwal

WHEN farmers of western Uttar Pradesh took to the streets protesting against the acquisition of their lands and demanding a just compensation package from the State government, the central leadership of the Congress was quick to cite the example of Haryana, where, according to United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the best policies of land acquisition and compensation were being followed and which were worthy of emulation.

Even the farmers of Haryana would not agree with her. A section of them are in fact angry with the land acquisition pattern being followed in the State. They say their lands are being acquired without their consent and that the rates of compensation offered are much less than the market rates. Many of them are worried about a future without agriculture. And those who depend on the landed gentry for their subsistence face an even bleaker future. The danger of landlessness has begun to sink in even among the rich peasantry.

Frontline met numerous agriculturists, whose landholding size range between 2 and 10 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare), in Fatehabad, Faridabad and Palwal districts. This included women agriculturists who, despite the incessant rain and floods, had decided to battle it out.

Whether it was the farmers of Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district, where a nuclear plant is proposed to be set up by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, or those farmers of Palwal district, where an expressway is to come up or those of six other villages in Faridabad district, where a township is to come up, all have refused to part with even an inch of their lands.

Contrary to the UPA chairperson's statement that a balanced approach should be taken while acquiring land for industrial purposes and that it should not lead to loss of large tracts of fertile land, all that has been acquired in Haryana till date and that which is proposed to be acquired is fertile land cultivated all round the year. The yield from them comprises food, fodder, vegetable crops as well as cash crops such as cotton. Farmers are questioning the development model model townships, industrial estates and urban estates projected by the state at the cost of a traditional and stable livelihood option.

Inadequate compensation

Right opposite the Deputy Commissioner's office in Faridabad town, farmers are on an indefinite protest since August 30. No one from the D.C.'s office had come to meet them, they said, and so they have planned a bigger protest bringing in the farmers of neighbouring Palwal district.

The protest here is over the government's plan to create a township to be called Greater Faridabad. Land had been acquired earlier, mainly by private builders, from the farmers at the rate of Rs.2.88 crore an acre.

The State government then entered the picture with a plan to build a dividing road and bypass road. On April 12, it announced that farmers affected by the construction of the bypass would be compensated at the rate of Rs.16 lakh an acre. The farmers rejected it saying that the rate was very low.

Nineteen villages will be affected by the construction of the bypass which, the farmers argue, is mainly to facilitate the plans of a builders' lobby. They later learnt from newspaper reports that the government had enhanced the compensation rate for the land but had not fixed any rate for the houses that would be destroyed in the process.

Till date, we have not been told about the enhanced rates. What about our houses? We have to live somewhere, said Amarchand Chandela, convener of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, which is leading the agitation in Faridabad and Palwal districts. The farmers also demand scrapping of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894; plots of land as compensation for houses to be demolished; and compensation for agricultural workers and artisans who depend on agriculture for a living. One major grievance is the awarding of differential rates of compensation for villages coming under the National Capital Region. Why is it that a farmer in Gurgaon gets more than Rs.1 crore an acre for his land while the compensation is less than the circle rate of Rs.55 lakh an acre in Faridabad? says Satpal Narvat, the organising secretary of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. Farmers' organisations such as the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) support their demands and struggle.

Hundreds of farmers from six villages in Faridabad district are on a sit-in protest under the aegis of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti in Chandavali village. The government proposes to set up an Industrial Model Town (IMT) here at the cost of farmlands.

One of the leaders of the protest here is Rachna Sharma, who has been elected sarpanch for the fourth consecutive term. Women are in agriculture in a big way here. They do everything, including growing vegetables. What will they do if their lands are acquired? she says. She has the full support of the Sarva Karmachari Sangh, a leading government employees' organisation and the AIKS.

Much of the land in Chandawali is lying uncultivated as the administration has cut off power and water supply to the fields following the agitation. Nearly 70 per cent of the farmers here have small holdings, and the compensation rate for them is a mere Rs.16 lakh an acre. Some of them initially accepted the compensation thinking that there was no other way out, but now all of them have taken control of their lands and are refusing to budge. They put pressure on us and acquired panchayat land. It is the sixteenth day of our agitation and not a single official has come to meet us, said Ram Singh, one of the leaders of the agitation.

The farmers are angry that the Congress, which took a keen interest in raising the issue of the plight of farmers in Uttar Pradesh, has not bothered to send a single leader to meet them. That is because the party is in power in both the State and the Centre, said Subhash Lamba, general secretary of the Sarva Karamchari Sangh. He said the livelihood of small farmers would be severely affected if the compensation rates were not enhanced to at least Rs.2 crore an acre, which was the market value of the land. The farmers have also demanded a 10 per cent share of the land that has already been acquired by the government for the IMT.

Farmers from 24 villages in Palwal district are dissatisfied with the low rates of compensation for their lands acquired for the construction of the Eastern Peripheral Express Highway connecting Palwal and Noida in the National Capital Region. They argue that the highway would uproot not only them but also cut through their fields dividing existing plots of land and damaging the lines laid down for tube well irrigation.

They have demanded Rs.2 crore an acre as compensation, a government job for at least one member of a family whose land has been acquired, alternative residential plots in urban or rural estates at the rates at which the land was acquired earlier, compensation for the landless who depend on agriculture, and an annual royalty of Rs.5,000 an acre as well as an annuity.

At Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad, farmers have been protesting the notification for acquisition of their lands for a nuclear power plant. The total area of land involved here is some 2,500 acres, with Gorakhpur village alone accounting for 1,800 acres. The land here yields up to four crops a year. Most of the farmers here have their houses in the agricultural land itself and almost all of them have invested heavily in submersible tube wells. The concerns of the migrant agricultural labour force from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have not been addressed at all.

But owing to the problem of water-logging in this region, some farmers are willing to sell their land provided the compensation rates are just.

For seven generations, we have been involved in agriculture. Our land is the best in the State and we cannot accept the land-for-land arrangement. There will be a shortage of fodder once land is taken for non-agricultural purposes. The economy of Fatehabad city and seven towns is dependent on us, said Naresh Kumar, vice-president of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti.

The farmers are upset that Ashok Tanwar, the Member of Parliament from Sirsa, who accompanied Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to Uttar Pradesh as part of the political fight against the Mayawati government on the farmers' issue, did not address the problems faced by the people of his own constituency. They said that they were not allowed to meet the NPCL director when he visited their village.

Government stand

Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has promised to review the land acquisition policy so that maximum compensation can be given. The government has an annuity-cum-compensation scheme under which the oustees are to be given market prices and also a fixed amount at fixed intervals.

The State Department of Urban Estates, which has acquired 16,362.595 acres of land since 2005, has paid a total compensation of Rs.4,173.66 crore to affected landowners. Besides, 2,478.20 acres of land stands notified for acquisition under Section 4 and another 8,842.95 acres under Section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act.

Apart from the compensation, the landowners are being rehabilitated by the department under a rehabilitation and resettlement policy. Residential plots up to a maximum size of 350 square yards and commercial booths measuring 2.75 x 2.75 metres are being allotted to the displaced landowners. The question is whether agriculturists are prepared for this transition. We are farmers. We do not know any other occupation. How can we get absorbed into new projects here if we do not have the skills? asked Naresh Kumar.

The annuity scheme is also two-fold. An annuity of Rs.15,000 per acre per annum would be paid to landowners with an increment of Rs.500 a year, up to a period of 33 years. This is for the land acquired by the government. The land acquired by the State for private developers has a higher annuity rate, and oustees will receive an annuity of Rs.30,000 per acre per annum for 33 years with an annual increase of Rs.1,000 per acre. The minimum floor rates for acquisition range from Rs.8 lakh to Rs.20 lakh an acre though it is higher for lands coming under the NCR. Even within the NCR, there are differences in the rates. In Gurgaon, if the minimum floor rate is Rs.20 lakh an acre, in Faridabad it is Rs.16 lakh. This is a major issue among farmers.

The policy entails developers to create infrastructure such as roads, sewerage and drainage, facilities for drinking water supply, streetlights and community centres. But much of the State has witnessed unplanned urban development. Most of the roads in the three districts, including parts of the national highway, are in a bad shape especially with the onset of monsoons.

At Agroha town in Fatehabad, farmers are agitated because the government had earmarked lands under the controlled area for urban development without consulting farmers. Here the lands of farmers had been acquired at the rate of Rs.8 lakh an acre earlier. Nothing has been done on the land they acquired earlier. The people of Agroha have not gained anything from the development of the town, said Mahabir Singh Soora, a farmer.

Many farmers believe that even if they were to get adequate compensation for their lands, there is little they can do for long with the money. They worry about their children, many of whom, with the surplus money in their hands from the sale of land, have fallen into bad company. They also know that living in cities would be an expensive option.

Most of them have livestock and wonder why the government has not considered that in the rehabilitation and resettlement policy. Eighty per cent of farmers here depend on the produce from their livestock. We supply milk to Delhi too. The price of milk and vegetables will go up once we stop producing it for the capital city, said Rajendra Singh Nambardar, a farmer in Palwal district.

Even if the rates of compensation are made just and fair, the last word on the fate and future of agriculture in the State is yet to be said.