Face-off between farmers and industry

Land was handed over to the developers of a privately-run Special Economic Zone, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 05:00 IST

On a foggy February day this year in this Haryana village, everyone became a millionaire.

Villagers say it was one of the most tragic days in their lives. That was the day when officials handed money to villagers for the land taken from them in 2003, using a special law that allows governments to acquire private land if it is being used for a public cause.

Soon after, the land was handed over to the developers of a privately-run Special Economic Zone.

Each farmer was given Rs 20 lakh per acre by the government, village headman Attar Singh said. But the market price for the land — on the fringes of bustling Gurgaon — is at least Rs 2 crore per acre, villagers and local realtors said. “None of us wanted to give our land. The government took it away by force, and then gave it away to private companies,’’ Singh said, pulling on a hookah as he sat on a narrow lane outside his house. “We were cheated. We should have got much more money, because the market rate is 10 times of what we got.’’

Similar complaints are resonating across India in areas where land has been acquired for SEZs. Even with all the money, Mohammedpur hardly looks like a village of millionaires, and villagers have no hope that the planned SEZ bordering their village will transform their lives for the better.

Roads cannot be walked on; they are permanently waterlogged and slushy. Power supply is rare. Sewage spills onto the stench-filled streets.

Water is plentiful now, but villagers fear it will be sucked away by the industries in the SEZ.

“We should have been given one job per family in the SEZ,’’ said villager Dheeraj Singh. The sudden availability of money is also creating tension between generations.

“We elders say the money should be saved and invested wisely. But the children want to buy expensive cars and waste money.

They say they will consume poison if they do not have their way,’’ said Singh, the headman. “There is fighting in every home,’’ he said.


First Published: Oct 17, 2006 05:00 IST