Thursday, 23 April 2015

Land acquisition continues alongside debate on new Bill

On April 19, farmers working in their fields hurriedly returned to their homes in Madina Korsan village, after hearing the news that the government has acquired their fertile land for widening the under-construction National Highway 10, connecting Rohtak and Hisar. About 100 km from the national capital, where a high-scale drama over the land acquisition Bill is being played out, the government is quietly going about business as usual.

Farmers in Rohtak were filled with anger and fear after finding their names in newspapers that carried the gazette notification of February 6. The Union ministry of road transport and highways detailed the names of the farmers and their respective holdings it had acquired under Section 3A of the National Highway Act, 1956, to widen, manage and operate the highway in Rohtak district.

"We are unhappy," says 60-year-old farmer Ramehar, who has been most severely hit by the fresh acquisition of his farm land. Four years ago, the government had acquired a small portion of his land for the construction of the highway and paid him a compensation of around Rs 10 lakh. The compensation rate then was Rs 34 lakh per acre. Ramehar, father of three, says the government now plans to construct a toll tax plaza on the remaining part of his three acres of land.

"It's a fertile land and is close to a canal. I harvest three-four crops a year. I will be landless if this land is taken," he says, pointing to his fields along the concrete highway that will now be widened. He and other farmers fear the government will compensate them at the previous rate of Rs 34 lakh per acre, when the market rate is now around Rs 1 crore.

"We need at least Rs 2 crore for our land and are requesting the government for the same. With less compensation, we will only be able to purchase land in the interiors of the state," says Surender Singh, whose fields lie next to Ramehar's. Both the farmers have been doing the rounds of the district office seeking an increased compensation for the previously acquired land.

Some farmers, who had gone to the district court Rohtak for the same, are yet to get a response through their lawyers, who will charging a 10 per cent commission of a potentially increased amount.

"We have not received any notice from the government for fresh acquisition. Whatever we heard was through newspapers. We don't know how much compensation the government will provide this time," says Chaju Singh, a former head of the village. Chaju Singh and his family are the biggest land owners in the village.

The villagers' land had been acquired before the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The new Act increased the compensation fourfold in the rural and doubled in the urban areas. It also provisioned for a mandatory employment to the affected families.

Though the Modi government has brought an ordinance to replace the 2013 Act, the compensation amount has not been changed. It is further proposed that provisions of compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement of the 13 laws, such as the National Highways Act, 1956, and the Railways Act, 1989, under which land is acquired, should be brought in consonance with the new land Bill. Also for acquiring land for roads and highways, the government doesn't require permission of farmers for acquiring their lands.

But villagers are uneducated about the replacing of the archaic land Act, where the district collector had the authority to decide on the compensation amount, by the 2013 Act. "We read newspapers and watch television, but these things are beyond our comprehension. All we want is an increased compensation," says Hawa Singh of Kharkara village, next to Madina Korsan.

When asked whether they would hold any protests, says Jagat Singh, 65, said, "Can anyone dare to stand against the might of the state? The last thing we want is to take the law and order situation in our hands and risking going to jail. We are already compounded with other problems."

The villagers will approach the court if they are not given the desired compensation. They currently have no other option either, because despite the high decibel debate on the new law, the government has not shown an inclination to back down on it.

  1. The ministry of road transport and highways notified intent to acquire land on October 9, 2014.
  2. Intent notification published in newspapers on November 22, 2014.
  3. A competent authority heard the objections and rejected them.
  4. On April 19, 2015, the government published another notification dated February 6, 2015 announcing control over the land.
  5. Total land acquired through notification: 2,27,459.95 square metre.
  6. Villages affected: Sunderpur, Bahu Akbarpur, Madina Gideran, Madina Korsan, Kharkara, Balamba, Meham, Bheni Maharajpur.

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