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No place in the new age

They got crores for their land, but many will never work again. What if I asked you to farm instead of writing, one worried farmer asked Ketaki Ghoge.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2008 00:48 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

“I have seen Rs 2 crore squandered in two years. All that was left of the fortune were three Sumo cars that the three brothers drive as tourist vehicles,” said P. Jadhav, regional officer with the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC).

Stories of squandered fortunes and dead investments in Pune district forced the government to sit up and change its rehabilitation policy this year.

Over 20,000 hectares have been cleared for industrial development and eight SEZs are in the offing, but most of the villagers are not qualified for jobs in the new IT companies and automobile plants that will replace their fields.

The new MIDC policy, announced in August, has made way for farmers to have a stake in the developed land. It has also made wealth management consultants mandatory for villages where lands are being acquired.

For many farmers struggling to find work after selling their farms, this option of buying back part of the developed land could provide some much-needed security.

Because, despite the money, farmers are unsure about their future.

“We are not educated, to land good jobs in these fancy companies. If we lose all our lands, our children and future generations will have nothing to fall back on,” said Jaya Holawale.

Her family is sitting on a virtual gold mine, with 25 acres of sugarcane fields adjoining the Hinjewadi IT park. Their land could fetch Rs 5 crore per acre, but Jaya is afraid all the money would soon be gone and she would be left destitute.

Vithal Yelwade echoed her worries. He lost all but 2 acres of farmland in Nighoje village to the Mahindra & Mahindra campus in Chakan’s industrial estate.

He earned Rs 50-60 lakh, but wants to invest his money in more agricultural land. “Farming is what I do best,” he told this reporter. “What if you were asked to farm instead of write for a living?”

Warned activist Ashwini Kulkarni of Pragati Abhiyan: “Once the money runs out, the anger and discontent will increase the divide between the original residents and the new migrants working in the service sector.”

Seema Medhewar, project associate with NGO Feedback Ventures, has been working with villagers in Kendur, part of the multi-product SEZ promoted by Pune autocomponents major Bharat Forge. She admitted that the biggest challenge facing the farmers was to make the transition to the service sector or entrepreneurship.

“Unless they are really assimilated in the new economy, this change will just lead to further discontent,” she said.

Her job is to advise the villagers in investment and business opportunities and work out training courses.

For her, the biggest success was when villagers in Kendur decided not to blindly follow the trend and buy big cars after being handed a total of about Rs 50 crore in compensation.

“The farmers have locked up Rs 27 crore in fixed deposits. And there isn’t a single Skoda in this village,” she smiled.

Three other villages have formed companies after farmers got together to pool their developed land. Nighoje Logistics, for instance, was formed by 86 farmers and their 32 acres. They hope to set up their vendor unit for Mahindra & Mahindra.