Land Acquisition: Maharashtra

Grand scheme

Print edition : August 18, 2017

Farmers of Shivade village in Sinnar taluk in Nashik district set up pyres and hangman's nooses at different places as a mark of protest against land acquisition for the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway. Photo: AJAJ SHAIKH

The Maharashtra government’s Mumbai-Nagpur expressway is on course despite large tracts of irrigated land being lost to the project.

IN Maharashtra, a State whose economy is effectively in the red, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has put all his might behind fulfilling his dream of building an eight-lane Mumbai-Nagpur expressway that will traverse 10 districts, covering a distance of 710 kilometres. This gigantic project is estimated to cost Rs.46,000 crore. But there is an even higher price that the State will have to pay for the project: 20,820 hectares of land.

The grandly named Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg, or prosperity corridor, is not just about a highway that cuts the travel time by half between the two capitals of the State (traditionally, Nagpur hosts the winter session of the State legislature) but more about developing the region lying between them. This euphemism for land grab for industrial development is all too clear in this case. Of the 20,820 ha, a mere 8,520 ha will be needed for the expressway; the remaining 12,000 ha is meant for developing 24 townships. These townships, or development nodes, will house industries that range from agro-processing to information technology.

The expressway will run through 354 villages spread across 30 taluks. Close to 80 per cent of the land, that is, 17,499 ha, that is to be acquired for the project is agricultural land, 399 ha forest land and 2,922 ha unused land.

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, compensation for the land should be based on market rates. But the State government often chooses to buy land under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation Act or the National Highway Act. For the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, the government is offering farmers the option of land pooling or a one-time settlement. Land pooling is seen as a convenient method of land acquisition for large projects because it eases the problem of acquiring small holdings. Essentially, local landowners have to pool their land and give it to the acquiring agency that will develop it. The owners are guaranteed a certain percentage of the land back for their use once it has been developed.

The other option on offer is developed land, which will be a percentage of the total land acquired. For irrigated land, farmers get a compensation of 30 per cent of the total acquired land. In the case of unirrigated land, it will be 25 per cent. The land offered is in the same area. This formula was arrived at in the belief that the value of the land will be high because of industrial development in the area. The government likes to say that farmers are being made partners in the project since they are given plots in the developed zone. This promotional campaign is not going down well with farmers, who are only too aware of the plight of farmers elsewhere in the country who had to hand over their land for development, especially those who had to part with their lands because of the proposed special economic zones, which were allowed to be used for non-industrial purposes. Though it is a presumption that the farmer will want to monetise his land in the future, the farmer is eventually forced to consider selling the land because farming is practically impossible when the land is surrounded by industrial or developed zones.

Recent protest

The most recent protest against land acquisition was organised in April by the anti-Mumbai-Nagpur expressway Samruddhi Mahamarga Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti. Thousands of farmers blocked the Mumbai-Agra highway, saying they would be rendered landless and jobless if they gave up farming.

In May, farmers from Sinnar and Igatpuri taluks in Nashik district protested outside the district office of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is the nodal agency for the project. Fearful of losing their irrigated land and unsure of what they will receive by way of compensation, they demanded that the road be realigned so that their lands are left out of the project. The MSRDC rejected the suggestion because it would have meant encroaching upon the Kalsubhai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary. The MSRDC is discussing the possibility of an elevated road to save the irrigation sources of farmers and also lessen the extent of land that will have to be acquired.

As of now the State has not tried to forcibly acquire land, but clashes between the police and the local people who protested against surveys being carried out have been reported. In fact, other methods of persuasion are being used.

Interlocutors

The MSRDC has appointed interlocutors to allay the fears of the villagers. It is interesting to note that the number of interlocutors has been increasing as farmers are refusing to relent. There are plans to redesignate land use, and this will affect the status of forests and green zones. It is unlikely that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will oppose them. In the recent past, it has shown itself to be an aid to industry instead of safeguarding the environment as was seen in the case of the proposed port at Vadhavan, where the Ministry has started proceedings that will finally result in the closure of an environment protection authority that is opposing the port.

Farmers have been resisting land acquisition for other large infrastructure projects as well. In June, farmers in Palghar district north of Mumbai demonstrated against land acquisition for the Mumbai-Vadodara expressway and for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. The local people have also been protesting against the gigantic multipurpose, all-weather port at Vadhavan. Farmers in Chakan near Pune are opposed to plans for a new international airport.

South of Mumbai, in Raigad district, there is opposition to land being acquired for the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor. Another project that is on the cards is the Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor, which is yet to begin the process of land acquisition. The protests are unlikely to halt the construction of the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway. At the most, farmers’ resistance will result in higher compensation. Although there is resistance to the project, it is expected to stay on schedule and be completed by 2019. The project has everything going for it. Fadnavis, who hails from Nagpur, wants to be remembered by this gigantic infrastructure project, and his clout as the Prime Minister’s favourite Chief Minister will ensure that it is completed at any cost.

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