With the Singur protest highlighting the fight of farmers’ against giving away their fertile land, a new concern is being raised in Maharashtra.
In one of the most fertile belts of the state, a large chunk of land is being bought for industrial or commercial use and in many cases, the farmers are willingly selling land—thanks to astronomical rates being offered.
While farmers 2,000 km apart are not united in their emotions, West Bengal’s Singur and Pune’s Chakan pose a larger worry: if the trend of taking up farm land for industry across the nation would affect crops, and pose a food crisis some day.
“It’s a concern. We cannot stop farmers from selling their land if they are getting good money. Now, we have a proposal to convert barren land to agricultural to recover these losses,’’ said state agriculture commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh. His department has sent a proposal to the state government to spend Rs 50,000 per acre of barren land to convert it into agricultural land.
Deshmukh pointed to Chakan, the proposed site for the new international airport near Pune. With an airport, two special economic zones (SEZ) and several service sector hubs planned, land is the most precious commodity. Even a state body like Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation is willing to pay Rs 32 lakh a hectare. Private developers are offering much more.
In areas like Wagholi, Hadapsar, Hingewadi, the IT and real estate hubs, the going rate is at Rs 1 crore to Rs 3 crore an acre.
State Planning board chairman Ratnakar Mahajan admitted it’s a worrying trend. “There are many examples of cultivable land being used for other purposes. In the future, this can hamper our food productivity.’’ That’s not all.
Mahajan quotes that as per estimates by the Central agriculture ministry, conversion of 1,000 hectares of agriculture land renders 700 farmers and 60 labourers jobless.
In the Pune belt, where farmers grow three crops a year, these concerns however are increasingly being brushed away.
Just five months ago, farmers of four villages from Khed taluka were given a package of Rs 219 crore in exchange of their land for Bharat Forge's SEZ, spread over 7,000 hectares and 17 villages altogether. This is just one one among eight SEZs being developed in this belt. Another 10 info-tech SEZs were cleared and notified in 2006-07. Most of these deals are on cultivable land.
“If the farmers are getting good money then where is the problem,” asked water resources minister Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar.
Activist Ulka Mahajan, however, pointed out: “There are protests by farmers and not all want to part with cultivable land. Often, records are manipulated to broker deals and middle-men pocket money.”