FEW FARMERS are seen at Nimana village in Haryana's Jhajjar district. They are all away, searching for cultivable land to buy. Rajender Singh and his five brothers are about to leave for Hisar. He reveals that his neighbours have travelled 500 km to Nagaur district in Rajasthan in their search. The villagers call it the Reliance Effect.
Most of them have sold their land to Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which along with the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC), will set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Jhajjar and Gurgaon districts. Singh and his brothers have sold their 23 acres of land to the ambitious SEZ, in which the initial investment is Rs 40,000 crore.
Reliance is buying land from farmers at Rs 22 lakh per acre, comparable to the rates fixed by the state government. The company has made advance payment — 10 per cent of the total price of the land — to many farmers, and even opened offices in Jhajjar so that farmers can easily contact them.
The farmers are not complaining. Certainly not at Nimana or its surrounding villages. The groundwater level in this area has been falling for some time and the yield from the land depleting with every season. Says Jaiveer, a farmer: "Either there is no water or the water is saline. Even mustard farming, which does not require too much water, is affected."
But farmers are not frittering away the windfall that has come their way. Like the Singhs who got an advance of Rs 50 lakh, they are all looking for land. Says Chandan, a farmer at Sondhi village: "We know how to sow and harvest. What other livelihood option do we have once our land has gone? It makes sound sense to buy land somewhere and start farming again. Or else, sooner or later we will be ruined."
Reliance has so far bought 100 acres from six villages — Pelpa, Nimana, Sondhi, Faizabaad Pasod, Dadri Toi and Badli - and entered into agreements for the purchase of another 600 acres in the area.
The scenario is different at Dewarkhana, Ismailpur and Fatehpur - villages close to Gurgaon - where a surburbia of malls and corporate houses has already been built on what was once farmland.
Here farmers are refusing Reliance's offer. They want better prices if they are to sell. A Reliance official says, "Farmers are asking Rs 40-50 lakh per acre, because of their land's location." They know, once construction begins, land prices will rise much higher than what they are being offered. Reliance, therefore, strategically decided to buy land in Jhajjar first.
The HSIIDC-RIL SEZ project, which attracted much controversy when the state government decided to hand over about 1,500 acres in Gurgaon to the joint venture, received a setback of sorts when Sonia Gandhi rejected the idea of the Congress government helping private developers to acquire land.
Reliance then started buying land on its own. But some farmers still fear that the government may forcibly acquire their land for the SEZ.