“I have no other method of earning a living. I only know how to make a living from land,” said Mahesh Singh (62), a farmer from Ghori Bachhera.
Mahesh received Rs 9.6 lakh for his three bighas which he sold the government. He said the lion’s share from this went into paying off debts. “I bought a buffalo and a 3-bigha plot in Naraura near Aligarh,” he said.
Land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddh Nagar district has given rise to a new phenomenon. Farmers who were forced to hand over their land to the government have been pushed to purchase land further inside the state — around Aligarh and Bulandshahr.
Many of them are now technically landowners and not farmers — even though their incomes have come down by half.
For Vir Singh of Gharbara village, one of the eight villages at the centre of Wednesday’s police firing on farmers, there was no option but to look for a fertile piece of land that he could till.
After the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) acquired about 10 bighas (roughly 10,000 square yards) of land belonging to his family, Vir’s brother Nemvir decided to invest in farming plots near Bulandshahr in UP.
“Our land was first acquired in 2002 for the Gautam Buddh Nagar University campus, then in 2004 for the Taj Expressway and Unitech projects, and finally in 2006 for the Night Safari and Castle Valley residential project. We have received Rs 27 lakh in total as compensation. We realised that if we did not buy land elsewhere, the money would soon run out and we would be left with
nothing,” said Vir.
Vir Singh’s family is slightly more affluent than his neighbours, but even those with very small land holdings have invested in plots.
Mahesh Singh said he never visited the village where he owned land as it is too far and he could afford the commute. The farmer who tills his land keeps half the produce.
“Earlier, I grew three crops on my land and the produce belonged to me. Now my income is half of what I earned,” said Mahesh.
Though some farmers have found out a way, the worst hit in the deal are landless labourers.
Omprakash Balmiki is the husband of panchayat pradhan (village headwoman) Omwati of Ghori Bachhera village and effectively the man who runs the show.
Balmiki belongs to a caste that traditionally does not own land and relies on manual labour for a living.
“My wife became the pradhan as the panchayat chief's seat is reserved for those Scheduled Castes. I used to keep pigs earlier. But after my wife became the pradhan, I stopped that and limited myself to farm work. With the farms gone, I have no work. My son works as a sweeper in a Noida office,” said Balmiki.
Farmers from neighbouring villages also rue land acquisition by the government which they say is taking place simply because these are prime properties that will cost private developers dear if they try to purchase land themselves.
“This is simply an attempt to grab our land because we are 30 kms from Delhi,” said Radhacharan Bhati, a resident of the neighbouring Nayi Basti village.