The Rajasthan government has cracked down on the group mobilising farmers, threatening to derecognise it after officials failed to convince villagers to give up thousands of acres of land for a controversial power project with a private company.
In an election year in Rajasthan, the battle between corporate interests and farmers in the border district of Barmer is billed by villagers as the “Mother of Nandigram”, a reference to the pitched face-off between villagers and police in West Bengal.
The company, Raj West Power Ltd., is setting up a Rs 5,000-crore, 1,000-megawatt lignite (coal)-based power plant at the district’s Bhadres village in a joint venture with the state-owned Rajasthan State Mines and Minerals Limited (RSSML). It will be the state’s biggest power project.
The Hindustan Times reported on January 24 how government officials began surveys last Monday to finalise compensation money to acquire the land, but were met with angry opposition from villagers refusing to sell their land for any amount.
The surveys were the last step in the state government’s campaign to eventually acquire more than 20,000 acres of village land. More than 60,000 people — and, more importantly, 250,000 livelihood-providing cattle — live across 29 villages in the area.
The surveys continued for four days but were met with tough opposition. Finally the surveys were suspended. But Barmer’s registrar of societies sent a notice on Saturday to Ram Singh Bothiya, president of the Kisan Bhoomi Awapti Samiti (Farmers’ Land Acquisition Committee), over posters put up by the group in villages across the region against the acquisition. The letter threatened to “unilaterally” take action and cancel the committee’s registration.
The registrar’s letter was dated January 10. It gave a deadline of January 21 for Bothiya to appear personally. But it was postmarked January 24, three days after the deadline.
The committee’s posters read: “Entry Banned: It is informed that entry is banned into farmers’ agricultural land and private thoroughfares without farmers’ permission, as part of the land acquisition for the lignite project. If, despite this warning and without the farmers’ permission any person tries to enter, he will be collectively opposed by the villagers and will be stopped … the responsibility will be yours.”
Villagers allege that the company, Raj West Power, is the real gainer in the exercise, not the state or nation as the government argues — and certainly not the farmer. The company rejects this, saying there will be huge job opportunities. It also says that the land is being acquired by the government, not directly the company.