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Kushinagar farmers’ wait for justice continues even after 4,322 days of stir

in 2002, the then BJP government had decided to install the tallest statue of Gautam Buddha in UP’s Kushinagar. But undue delay in execution has forced the farmers to demand return of their 600-acre agricultural land.

india Updated: May 14, 2019 14:09 IST
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
kushinagar,Maitreya Buddha Project,kushinagar farmers stir
Farmers from Kushinagar sitting on dharna, demanding return of their agricultural land acquired for the Maitreya Buddha Project. (HT Photo )

It appears to be an endless wait for the farmers of UP’s Kushinagar who have been on a dharna for over 4,000 days. The farmers’ agitation, opposing the acquisition of their agriculture land for the Maitreya Buddha Project, completed 4,322 days on Saturday , being claimed as the longest farmers’ dharna by the organisers.

These Lok Sabha elections came as a boon to farmers as the leaders of most of the parties not only visited them but have also assured them justice.

Now, the hapless farmers are waiting for the elections to get over as the state government has assured them of a notification to scrap the government order issued for the acquisition of 600-acre land for the project.

“It’s the longest wait for Buddha,” said Ramkishun Prajapati, a farmer, adding that the state government had signed an MoU with Maitreya Project Trust in May 2003 for the installation of a 500-feet-high bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha in Kushinagar where Buddha attained ‘mahaparinirvana’ (salvation).

“The state government had announced that the project would be completed within two years. Agitated over the delay, the farmers launched a movement against the acquisition of their agriculture land,” Prajapati said.

According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is ‘Future Buddha’ who will appear on the earth in future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Buddha, Gautam Buddha.

THE PROJECT

A state government spokesperson said in 2002, the then Bharatiya Janata Party government, led by Rajnath Singh, had decided to install the tallest statue of Gautam Buddha in UP after two 6th-century monumental statues of Gautam Buddha in Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.

On May 9, 2003, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government signed an MoU for the project with Maiterya Buddha Trust.

Under the agreement, it was decided that state government would provide land while the Trust would bear the expenditure of the project.

Along with the statue, an educational institute, hospital, meditation pavilion, park, pond, Buddha Vihar and guest house were also proposed as part of the project.

The government announced the acquisition of 850 acre land for the project. Under successive governments, 250 acre land has been acquired in phases and the farmers have been given compensation. However, neither the project made much headway over the years nor the remaining land was acquired.

On December 13, 2013, the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav laid the foundation of the project.

Maitreya ProjectTrust has set up an office on the land acquired for the project in Kushinagar. ( HT Photo )

A spokesperson of the Maitreya Project Trust, who did not wish to be named, said the spiritual head of the project Lama Zopa Rinpoche had been holding discussions with the district administration regarding the construction of the statue and other projects. “The height of the statue has been cut down from 500 feet to 200 feet as an airport is coming up near the site,” he said.

He added that till date the Trust had been given possession of 180-acre land and remaining 70-acre would also be handed over to it soon.

“The district administration has assured us that work on the construction of the statue will start after the conclusion of the ongoing Lok Sabha election. Free education and medical service will be provided to local people by the Trust,” he said.

FARMERS’ AGITATION

However, undue delay in the project has sparked agitation and the farmers are demanding that the remaining 600 acre land which the government proposed to acquire be handed over to the them.

Leader of a farmers’ organisation Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti Govardhan Gaur said: “The farmers’ agitation against the acquisition of their agriculture land completed 4,322 days on Saturday. It’s the longest dharna organised by farmers in the country.”

Farmers of seven villages -- Sabya, Anrudhwa, Siswa, Belwa Palakdhari Singh, Kasya, Bishunpur Bindwalia and Dumri Tappa Mainpur -- who have received notice for the acquisition of their land have extended support to the agitation organised by Gaur and local farmers at Siswa Mahanth crossing on Kushinagar-Deoria highway.

“The state government has acquired 250 acre land for the project and the farmers have received compensation for it. The remaining 600 acre land should be returned to the farmers,” Gaur said.

Ramjeet, another farmer, said: “We are not against the Buddha project. The multi-crore project will give a boost to tourism, increase employment and earning. The delay in construction of the statue has made farmers suspicious. In many cases, the state government has acquired fertile land but the project has not been launched,” he said.

Ramdarshan Kushwaha, a native of Kasya, said the farmers had decided to support the party which would ensure the construction of the statue and return of the remaining 600 acre land for which the state government had issued notification for acquisition.

“Politics is revolving around Buddha’s statue and launch of development project. Once the election is over, farmers may get their land back,” he said.

Many leaders including chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav have extended support to the farmers movement.

Congress’s candidate from Kushinagar RPN Singh, BJP’s Vijay Kumar Dubey and SP’s Nathuni Prasad Kushwaha have also assured justice to farmers.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP candidate Rajesh Pandey had defeated RPN Singh of the Congress.

In the past, the BJP has won the seat in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha election. In 2004, Baleshwar Yadav of the National Loktantrik Party surprised political observers by winning the seat.

In 2009, RPN Singh of the Congress won the seat.

District magistrate, Kushinagar, Anil Kumar Singh said the construction of Maitreya Buddha statue will start after the election.

“The process for the return of land to farmers will also start after the polls,” he said.

First Published: May 14, 2019 14:09 IST