As the F1 circus comes to town, farmers who lost their land for a pittance are threatening to play spoilsport. G Vishnu reports
ON 28 October, India will join the select ranks of countries that celebrate high speed and the accompanying adrenalin rush as Formula One cars clocking over 300 kmph will burn rubber on the track at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, a suburb located 40 km from New Delhi.
The circuit, which has an investment of Rs 1,960 crore riding on it, is the brainchild of the Jaypee Group. In fact, the Buddh International Circuit is the crown jewel of Jaypee Sports City, built on 2,500 acres of “barren land”. (In reality, the land was acquired for a paltry Rs 800 per sq m from farmers who used to grow three crops a year at times there.) There were no trees cut, claim Jaypee’s public relations officials. In addition to the racetrack, the sports city will have a cricket stadium, a hockey arena and a golf course and a sports academy.
However, right next to the sports complex, one can hear a rising din of dissent. Thousands of farmers have threatened to disrupt the event, which has apparently been organised with all the necessary clearances. Why should a sports city, without the usual complications of setting up of an industry, be subject to the ire of farmers? For those willing to listen, every villager in Greater Noida seems to have answers.
Land from about 10-12 villages in Dankaur Nagar panchayat of Gautam Buddh Nagar in Greater Noida was acquired in 2008 by the Uttar Pradesh government for industrial purposes. Farmers believe that their land has been unfairly acquired using Section 17 or the urgency clause of the archaic Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
“Land acquisition along the Yamuna Expressway has been equally unjust. The UP government has been terribly unfair to the farmers and Jaypee is another example of the brazen corporate loot in the country facilitated by the government,” says Ajit Singh Dhaula, a political activist who owes allegiance to the Congress.
Despite a deep political and caste divide, the villagers seem to have collectively lost their patience with the state government’s silence even after massive protests.
Bishamber Singh, 77, is one of those determined to bag a better deal after selling 40 bighas. “It’s not about being happy or unhappy about the compensation,” he says. “I’d have given my land without fuss. But the government took it in the presence of 1,000 policemen. We felt helpless. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have given up our source of livelihood that easily.”
Singh does not forget to remind the village elders sitting around him that there will be anarchy if people’s livelihoods are snatched away. The villagers in turn remember the 45-day dharna they observed despite massive police presence when the land acquisition was happening in 2007- 08. The farmers believe that Jaypee is enjoying the benefits of an unfair deal. After holding four panchayats in the past month, the farmers have decided not to allow the F1 race if their basic demand of Rs 25 lakh compensation per bigha is not awarded.
The F1 Grand Prix is an exercise in excess: 12 teams will spend a minimum of 15,000 litres of petrol the race weekend. With a racetrack of 5.137 km, the circuit is in the league of longer tracks such as Albert Park in Australia. The length contributes to cars attaining spectacular speeds of nearly 325 kmph along with a larger viewing space for the audience. Sixteen corners and dramatic changes in elevation ensure plenty of thrills to the expected crowd of 1 lakh spectators. Around 300 marshals will supervise every aspect of the race. And the tickets range from Rs 2, 500 to Rs 35,000 — all of the tickets in the lower range are sold out.
‘A ticket for the Lady Gaga show is priced at Rs 40,000. The farmer who lost his livelihood got only Rs 800 per sq m’
FOR THE tiny section of authentic F1 fans in India — having spent endless hours watching races on satellite TV for the past 20 years — it couldn’t get any bigger than this. The excitement and sheer joy of having an F1 Grand Prix at home has given a heady rush to those who worshipped Michael Schumacher while growing up.
To juxtapose this excitement with the misery of those who have paid a heavy price paints a poignant image. Behind the rebellion in the villages against the Grand Prix are gripping tales of utter loss and despondency. Bagmati, 60, who lives just metres away from the complex, presents a picture of hopelessness. She can barely hold back her tears while laying bare the state of her family of five sons and five daughter-in-laws, till now solely dependent on agriculture for sustenance. Jaypee today owns 24 bighas of what was meant to sustain Bagmati’s family for years to come.
“We do not know how to get back the land, where to get the next yield, how to obtain the next meal,” she says. Now her sons are looking for manual labour or some ‘contract work’ in the Jaypee project.
What has also drawn flak are the tall claims of how the revenue generated will be pumped back into society. Jaypee expects to generate Rs 980 crore, which it claims will “bring in socio-economic development” to the area. However, when TEHELKA asked farmers in Greater Noida how many locals got a job, it drew a blank.
On a hot noon, men from the villages of Naurangpur, Atta Fatehpur, Gurpur, Silhapur and Dehrin gathered in the Atta Gujran village square. Smoking their hookahs, most seemed worn out with resentment. “We will all summon our MLA, MP and party representatives,” a speaker bellowed. “We will tell those who are from the BSP to call your leaders and those who are from the Congress to write to Rahul Gandhi.”
The landless Dalits who laboured on these farmlands left for other stretches to make new beginnings, without any compensation or security. Over 1,000 landowning families were paid not more than Rs 800 per sq m. As one enters Atta Gujran, one gets an idea of the village economy, with eight small shops catering to 200 households. There are some two-storey houses with an SUV or a jeep parked outside. These are the big landlords who got handsome compensation for massive tracts of land. Speaking to 15 villagers reveals that almost all the landlords got a compensation of Rs 1 crore-Rs 2.5 crore.
In village squares, the incidents of police excesses in Bhatta-Parsaul are still topics of discussion. On 16 October, thousands of farmers sat on a dharna. They are also planning to carry out a jail bharo andolan. The state machinery is bracing itself to stop them from sabotaging one of the biggest sporting events in India.
Amidst all the grievances, some literate villagers have a characteristic contempt for the glitz associated with F1. “I read that some Lady Gaga is coming from America,” says Sugan Singh whose 30 bighas are now down to five. “For her one-hour show, the ticket is priced at Rs 40,000. The farmer who loses his livelihood gets just Rs 800 (per sq m)? If he complains, you shoot him down.”
“I don’t know anything about this race. They will snatch our land, lathicharge us and indulge in entertainment. Women will dance and liquor will be served,” he says. Other villagers nod in anger as Singh talks of breaking through the barricades before the Grand Prix if it means suffering the same fate as farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul.
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.com.