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Lok Sabha Elections 2019:11-year farmer protest draws poll promises

Leader of a farmers’ organisation Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti Govardhan Gaur said, “It’s the longest dharna organised by farmers in the country.”

lok sabha elections Updated: May 14, 2019 08:41 IST
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Rajesh Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times, Kushinagar
agrarian distress,UP,farmers
Agrarian distress has been one of the major issues raised by the opposition in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections(Shrikant Gorde/HTPhotos)

It has been an endless wait for justice. Now the dharna of the farmers of Kushinagar, which completed 4,324 days on Monday, has finally managed to grab the attention of politicians thanks to the ongoing general elections. The farmers are opposed to the acquisition of their agriculture land for the Maitreya Buddha Project in Kushinagar.

The Lok Sabha seat goes to polls on May 19, the last phase of polling in the general elections.

Not only have political leaders visited them, but the state government has also assured them that a notification to scrap the Government Order issued for the acquisition of 600 acres for the Maitreya Buddha Project, is in the works.

“It’s the longest wait,” said Ramkishun Prajapati, a farmer. The state government had signed an MoU with Maitreya Project Trust in 2003 for the installation of a 500-ft 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.

Maitreya is believed to be a successor to Gautam Buddha.

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

An educational institute, hospital, and guest house were also proposed. The government announced the acquisition of 850 acres for the project, and farmers were to receive Rs 3.9 million per acre as compensation. Under successive governments, 250 acres was acquired in phases and farmers received compensation. However, the project has not made much headway over the years. In 2013, the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav laid the foundation of the project.

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. Till date, the trust has been given possession of 180-acre he added, with 70 acres to be handed over soon, he added.

“The district administration has assured us that construction of the statue will start after the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

However, undue delay has led farmers to demand that the remaining 600 acres be handed over to them.

Leader of a farmers’ organisation Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti Govardhan Gaur said, “It’s the longest dharna organised by farmers in the country.”

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.

Ramjeet, a 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.

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

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 08:41 IST