IT’S A scam, but it doesn’t involve the astronomical figures being bandied about these past few months. Eighty Five farmers of what was Nagli Razapur village before it became the heart of Delhi are in dire straits. For the past 18 years, this once-cohesive community and hundreds of others in villages swallowed up by urbanisation have been fighting a losing battle for their place in the metropolis — theirs by right but which they can’t claim, thanks to political apathy and a bureaucrat- tout nexus operating with complete impunity.
In 1989, the Delhi government issued a notification to acquire the agricultural land of 85 farmers of Nagli Razapur, located right next to Sarai Kale Khan bus terminus in south Delhi. The land of these farmers is located in Jamuna Khadar, which is adjacent to the Akshardham Temple and Mayur Vihar Phase-1 of east Delhi. In 1992, their land was acquired and these farmers were promised an alternative plot in Delhi proportionate to the size of land acquired. These farmers had no clue that what seemed to be a fair decision at that juncture would turn into a nightmare.
Eighteen years later, only 29 farmers have been able to get their alternative plots — that too just last year and only because they pre-sold their plots to the touts for paltry sums.
It is shocking how the authorities responsible for land acquisition devised ways to deprive these farmers of their rightful land. One victim of such ingenuities is Bir Singh, a 70-year-old unlettered farmer who can only sign his name. Bir Singh was mortified when he discovered that his brother, co-owner of the land, got an alternative plot. Enquiries made by him revealed that tired of waiting and fighting this battle with the authorities, his brother pledged his official papers to a tout and suddenly his allotment of an alternative plot got cleared. When Bir Singh had exhausted all other options to find out the status of his file, he filed an RTI with the help of a friend.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Land and Building (L&B) Department told Bir Singh that his case does not come under the Right to Information (RTI) but offered him a peek into his file. Bir Singh, of course, explained that being illiterate, he would like his friend to be allowed to read the file. The heartless reply was that nobody else can read his file. The septuagenarian had to undergo the humiliation of holding his file in his hand but not being able to understand a single word.
When his case went to Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, he too was taken aback at the sheer brazenness of the bureaucrats. He told TEHELKA, “This man, poor chap, asked them to at least tell him whether the papers were in order. They said we can’t tell you — only when the sub-committee meets it can tell you. When will it meet? We can’t tell you. I was furious. They have this process of allotment and this allotment has not been done. Why? There is no reason.”
The whole situation infuriated Gandhi to such an extent that he made this stinging observation, “Bir Singh realises that his younger brother was able to get his plot by corrupt means and waits helplessly, intimidated by the bureaucracy and the government system that takes away his land and gives no promise of when he will get the alternative plot. The commission is unable to take punitive action against the officials but hopes that somebody sensitive enough in the government will realise that the poor and disempowered cannot be harassed like this endlessly.”
Jai Prakash Chauhan, 66, is another one who has spent the past two decades fighting the government along with his father, who at 96 years can no longer walk. “Right from the beginning, it was clear that the government had no intention of honouring its promise. The few lakh rupees in compensation for our land that we were supposed to get in 1992, we got in ’96. We were promised that we will get interest on the delayed payment but as in the case of alternative plots, only those who went through touts got the interest. The government acquired our land at the rate of Rs 27 per sq yard but we are supposed to pay Rs 18,000 per sq yard for the alternative plot. How do you explain this?”
Some farmers cite the example of Uttar Pradesh, where farmers whose lands are being acquired by the government are given alternative plots within two years, their market rate being the same as the rate at which the government acquired the land. They wonder why the Delhi government can’t follow this formula.
Gopal Singh Chauhan, a 65-year-old farmer fighting this battle for the past 16 years, has a resigned look on his face. Chauhan and several others went to meet East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit and apprise him of their plight. After hearing their story, Dikshit called DM Sapolia, Principal Secretary of the L&B department, and asked him to redress the grievances of these farmers.
“Sapolia sent us to another senior IAS officer who told us that for the past 20 years, not a single plot has been distributed,” says Chauhan. “When we told him that in the past couple of years 29 plots have been given to farmers who have sold their slips to the touts, whereas co-owners of the same land are still waiting for any kind of information, he asked us for proof. We gave him proof but we are yet to hear anything. Imagine, if this is happening to us who are living in the national capital, then what must be happening to farmers elsewhere in smaller towns and villages?”
The numbers just don’t add up for dispossessed farmers
The number of farmers who were asked to give up their land to facilitate Delhi’s expansion plans
The age of one of the farmers, who can no longer walk but has been fighting for his rights for the past two decades
Rupees. The rate per sq yard paid by the government, but alternative plots offered at Rs 18,000 per sq yard
NARESH CHAUHAN, 55, who is at the forefront of fighting this injustice, says that it is the attitude of the government officers that hurts the most. “Touts encircle our village like vultures and the authorities have created a conspiracy of silence. All we want to know is the status of our files but there is no response whatsoever from the L&B department. It looks like that they want to tire us to the point that we sell our alternative plot to the touts.”
“It is basically the government’s callous way of dealing with these poor people,” says CIC Gandhi. “There is so much misgovernance, it’s not funny. What is tragic is that the government doesn’t seem to think that this is something immoral.”
‘Touts circle the village like vultures and the babus have created a conspiracy of silence,’ says farmer Chauhan
TEHELKA tried to contact Dharmendra Kumar, who has taken over from Principal Secretary Sapolia, but he had just taken charge and did not respond. The CIC has asked the government to prepare a list of farmers yet to get land and post it on the L&B website by 1 May.
Though there is a change at the top in the L&B department, there is no change in the life of these farmers. Their struggle against the system continues, given new impetus by Anna Hazare’s campaign. As Naresh Chauhan puts it, “He has performed a miracle: the government had to listen to him. Will he be able to help us if we contact him?” For people who have seen corrupt and callous administration at close quarters for almost two decades, nothing short of a miracle is needed.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka