United, landless workers and opposition parties force the State government to set up committee for demands.
A 61-day dharna in western Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district by farmers, landless agricultural workers, women and young people from villages in the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) area has forced the State government to set up a committee to address their demands. No mean achievement in a regime that does not take kindly to protest and dissent and has come to acquire the sobriquet “bulldozer raj”. The agitators, led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and supported by opposition parties, sat in a dharna from April 23 to June 24 outside the GNIDA office, demanding implementation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land (Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Act, 2013.
Disputes over land acquisition began in the early 1990s with the establishment of Greater Noida in 1991, and 124 villages were notified for acquisition for industrial and residential development under the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Area Development Act, 1976. Over the years, land in 39 of the notified villages was acquired. The recent agitation came during the process of acquisition in 45 villages, with disputes cropping up over compensation and circle rate, which is the minimum designated price per square foot for a locality.
A high-powered committee, headed by the State Minister for Industrial Development and comprising MLAs, MPs, farmer leaders and officials of the GNIDA, has been constituted to address the demands by July 15.
The farmers have demanded return of 10 per cent of developed land to the original landholders, revision of the circle rate, rationalisation of the land shifting policy to ensure that farmers are not allotted alternative plots on unproductive land, 120 square metres of land for landless families in the affected villages, and 17.5 per cent quota for farmers in the allotment of residential plots under the GNIDA. The demands are not new and were part of earlier commitments made to farmers.
The high-powered committee also resolved to revisit the issue of employment to the affected families. Provision of such employment was part of a 2010 agreement.
Historically, land acquisition in this part of Uttar Pradesh has been a difficult exercise. The Greater Noida region was witness to two major farmer-led agitations, one in August 2008, in which five farmers were killed in Ghodi Bachdai village, and the other in 2011 at Bhatta Parsaul, where two farmers died in police firing.
The protests in Bhatta Parsaul received unexpected media attention when Rahul Gandhi visited the village and took up the issue with the Bahujan Samaj Party government. The issues were the same: fair compensation, resettlement and employment. The Congress, however, did not gain electorally and, quite typically, its interest in such issues waned with time. The Yamuna expressway, which was the bone of contention, got built. Yet, the issues that triggered the protests remained alive and festered.
No easy feat
Rupesh Verma, a farmer with a PhD in Economics and a law degree, was the face of the recent struggle. He told Frontline that it was no easy feat getting the government to set up a committee to discuss their demands. Verma and several of his fellow protesters were bundled off to jail for 20 days for disturbing the peace. The police lathi-charged the protesters, dismantled the dharna opposite the office of the GNIDA, and arrested all the leaders on June 6. The next day, the protesters re-assembled, this time led by women, defying prohibitory orders. There was little the administration could do.
Under Rupesh Verma’s leadership, the farmers set up a committee with representation from all political parties except the BSP and the BJP to lead the agitation.
“The LARR Act for the first time had provisions for consent, social impact assessment, and rehabilitation and resettlement.”
Notably, all the Assembly segments in the district are represented by members of the BJP. The Lok Sabha member of Gautam Budh Nagar, Mahesh Sharma, is also from the BJP. The success of a protest in an area represented by the BJP in the Legislature is, therefore, seen as politically significant. In the elections to urban local bodies, in May, the BJP could win only two of the five local bodies; independents won in the other three. Residents see this as reflecting disaffection with the government. In rural areas, the disaffection is deeper.
- A 61-day dharna (sit-in protest) in Gautam Budh Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh, by farmers and landless agricultural workers has compelled the State government to establish a committee to address their demands related to land acquisition..
- The protests centered around disputes over compensation and circle rates for land acquisition in 45 villages in the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) area.
- The farmers’ demands include the return of 10 per cent of developed land to original landholders, revision of circle rates, rationalisation of land shifting policy, land allocation for landless families, and a quota for farmers in the allotment of residential plots under the GNIDA.
Spurt in real estate activity
Villagers whom Frontline spoke to said that the purpose of the 1976 Act had been acquisition for industrial development, which might have generated employment. What actually happened, they said, was a spurt in real estate activity, with the acquired land being used for housing for the salaried sections working in Delhi. The few industrial units that came up could not generate adequate local employment. In any event, local people were not preferred during recruitment because of apprehensions that they would form unions.
The process of acquisition appeared opaque. It looked as if land could be acquired at will; the government only needed to issue a notice on grounds of public purpose. There were complaints that the GNIDA was usurping panchayat land too. Meagre compensation was the focus of an agitation even in 1992, led by Sardaram Bhati, a popular leader of the Left. In 1997, the demand for allotment of 10 per cent of developed land to land owners was made. Besides, progressive sections of the farmers’ movement have demanded allotment of house plots measuring 40 square metres to the landless, an idea that has been implemented in only one village, Patwadi.
The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 under the second United Progressive Alliance government provided for enhanced compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement. But the government resorted to direct purchase under the Act. Pushpender Tyagi of the AIKS from western U.P. explained why this put farmers at a disadvantage: “In direct purchase, the farmers were always at a loss. They preferred selling their lands and getting some money [immediately] instead of going through the tardy process of land sale under the 2013 Act. When farmers saw that land was being sold to private builders at astronomical rates, they raised the demand for 10 per cent of developed land because they realised that if such land was resold, they would stand to benefit.”
The circle rates were not revised after 2014. The new Act, said Rupesh Verma, provided for employment to one member of every family that parted with its land, but this too did not happen. The new Act also provided for compensation rates that were four times the circle rate in rural areas and double in urban areas. Consequently, more and more rural land was notified as “urban” in order to reduce compensation packages. “Land was acquired from us at the rate of Rs.3,000 a square metre and sold at Rs.72,000 to builders,” said Verma.
With satellite mapping of the villages, people found that they were losing even their homestead land—the land on the periphery of homes used to keep domestic animals and farming tools.
Verma said that the rates for acquisition were increased by Rs.700 after the two-month agitation. The increase may not appear too impressive, yet it is an important gain in a State with no precedent of a successful farmer agitation, said Hannan Mollah, former Lok Sabha MP and vice president of the AIKS. The inspiration for the protest, farmer leaders said, came from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s successful movement leading to the repeal of three new farm laws.
People participated in the dharna across caste lines. “Many barriers like caste and gender were broken in the course of the protest. We organised special days for women, the landless and the youth,” said Tyagi.
The landed sections in the region are mainly Gujjars, followed by Yadavs. After agriculture, animal husbandry is the second most popular occupation in these parts. But with agricultural land getting acquired, animal husbandry and livestock rearing became redundant gradually. Landless farmhands suffered immensely. The recent protests managed to secure a good deal for this section too.
“The success of a protest in an area represented by the BJP in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha is seen as politically significant.”
There was some speculation that the GNIDA wanted to settle the issue before June 26, when Chief Minister Adityanath was to inaugurate several new infrastructure projects for the region. The district BJP unit and elected representatives had planned a major public meeting for the event.
“It worked well for us, but we now have to get the GNIDA to adhere to its commitment. The government has a habit of reneging on agreements. This time, farmers are not going to back down. We will remobilise with greater numbers,” said Verma.
The enactment of the 2013 Act by the second UPA government was itself necessitated by the increased resistance to land acquisition and the low compensation rates offered by governments under an old colonial law. However, it was also widely felt that the 2013 Act was only a legal tool to facilitate land acquisition by the state.
Despite its imperfections, the Act for the first time had provisions for consent, social impact assessment (SIA), and rehabilitation and resettlement, features absent in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. However, distortions crept in when the National Democratic Alliance government took over in 2014. The Centre viewed consent and SIA as impediments for land acquisition. An ordinance was brought to dilute the LARR 2013.
Opposition parties resisted the ordinance in Parliament. Outside, the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, a broad front comprising farmer organisations and agriculture workers, took to the streets. The ordinance lapsed, but State governments run by NDA constituents were directed to modify the parent Act to suit their requirements.
Conflicts over land issues are expected to escalate in the years to come. The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, which was formed prior to the enactment of the 2013 Act and is an important constituent of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, will regroup in August in Madhya Pradesh to take up issues relating to land acquisition for projects.