Blood on the road to Agra

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Ground reality A farmer injured in the Greater Noida clash on 7 May

BHATTA PARSOL in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, became the latest battlefield of land wars on 7 May when two villagers and two policemen were killed during clashes. The farmers were hopping mad because they felt shortchanged by the government, which acquired their land on the cheap for the Yamuna Expressway project.

In 2007, the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEA) notified 256 villages for the development of the area along the Greater Noida-Agra expressway. The YEA offers Rs 850 per sq m to the farmers, and then sells it at Rs 5,500 per sq m to private builders. The builders plan to sell the land at a whopping Rs 18,000 per sq m.

This is not the first time that Gautam Budh Nagar has witnessed land wars. Last January, the police clashed with farmers from Greater Noida who were protesting against the sale of fertile land. The villagers were irked that the authorities acquired their land for industrial purposes but sold it to private builders to develop townships.

In August 2009, the YEA had announced a lottery for 21,000 plots in Sectors 18 and 20 of Bhatta Parsol village. These plots were being sold by the authority for Rs 4,750 per sq m, which was later revised to Rs 5,500 per sq m.

“Our problem is not with the sale. What is not acceptable are the exorbitant rates at which the private builders plan to sell our land,” says Rajiv Malik of Parsol village.

The farmers are demanding that the government allow them to deal with the builders directly

The other bone of contention that has not been highlighted is the process of land acquisition. Villagers complain that all they receive from the authority is a notification saying that their land will be acquired for development purposes.

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Losing The plot

850
per sq m is the price at which the government buys land from farmers

5,500
per sq m is the price at which the government sells it to private builders

18,000
per sq m is the price at which the private builders are selling the plots

(All figures in Rupees)

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“There hasn’t been a single panchayat meeting in the village regarding land acquisition. All we received was a postal order stating that our land will be acquired by the authorities,” claims Ajay Pal Sharma of Habibpur village.

The villagers are basically sent three notifications under Sections 4, 6 and 9 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. These notifications are to inform the villagers that their land is required for a public purpose and the government intends to take its possession.

“Even if we don’t intend to sell our land, there is no way we can protest. The land is forcibly taken by the authorities. This is nothing but goondagardi,” says Sharma.

However, senior YEA officials deny these allegations. They claim that they have held public meetings in the villages to discuss all the aspects of land acquisition. “It is us who have gone to the villages every time, the villagers have never bothered to come to our office to discuss the intricacies of the acquisition,” says a YEA official.

Better compensation is not all that the farmers say they deserve. Their demands include jobs for their kin in government departments or the private companies that come up on their land, medical facilities at government hospitals, and speedy disbursal of compensation.

The land to be given as part of the compensation is allotted only after project completion. Farmers are expected to stay landless till then. So they are demanding that the government let them negotiate with the companies directly instead of fixing rates for acquisition of the land.

Another important aspect that has emerged during the land acquisition drama is how farmers have failed to prosper despite getting a good compensation package.

HARISH CHANDRA, a resident of Chapargarh, was one of the hundreds of farmers who sold their lands. He sold his 7 bighas for the expressway project in 2009 for Rs 50 lakh.

After selling his land to YEA, Chandra blow up the compensation money buying an Alto, two motorbikes, a 12-room mansion and married off his daughter. “I am totally broke now. There is not a single paisa left. I was greedy for money at that time,” laments Chandra.

“We turned rich overnight. We didn’t know how to utilise the money properly. After having spent all the money, we have nothing left,” says Raghuveer Dayal of Tilapata village, who also ended up buying a car. He regrets not investing the compensation money in buying some land.

“Our situation was better when we were farmers. Nowadays, all we think about is survival,” says Chandra.

Samarth Saran is a Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
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