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Maharashtra farmers protest Mumbai-Nagpur highway, call it their road to ruin

Farmers who will lose land have opposed the project, questioning the nature of acquisition and credibility of the government

mumbai Updated: Jun 13, 2017 09:30 IST
Ketaki Ghoge, Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Maharashtra farmers,Mumbai-Nagpur highway
The Mumbai-Nagpur highway will span 50,000 acres. Farmers from 10 villages, including Guravali, Uttane, Pitambari and Wadgaonare, are set to lose their land.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT)

Forty-five years back, Laxmi Narayanrao Kadam, was forced to leave her home in coastal Chiplun, Konkan, with her two young children as her village and its fields were acquired for phase three of the Koyna dam project. Her family lost 10 acres on which they grew paddy, mango and jackfruit, besides their ancestral house. The entire village, Kolkewadi, was resettled in Shahapur taluka of Thane district.

Now, a 71-year-old grandmother, Kadam and the rest of the villagers from Kolkewadi face another displacement at the hands of the government. The state government’s ambitious Rs46,000-crore Mumbai-Nagpur super communication expressway runs through their fields in Shahapur. Worse, many had not got the farmland they were promised and now they never will.

“Can there be a greater irony than this? Many of us are still awaiting handover of the promised 4-acre farm plots from the government for displacement 40 years back. And, now the government says sorry but our new project will run across the paddy fields given to some of you and over the land that was promised but never given,” says Kadam, known as Nani in the village.

The project dubbed the Prosperity Corridor will acquire nearly 50,000 acres across 10 districts for the proposed highway and the 24 smart cities or agro-prosperity hubs planned along the alignment. Nearly 84 per cent of this land is agricultural.

The project is being showcased as a game changer by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis; a highway that can link the backward areas of Vidarbha and Marathwada to developed regions and markets of Thane and Mumbai.

But, farmers who will lose land have opposed the project, questioning the nature of acquisition, the credibility of the government and the planning of the project.

Skirting the law?

“If the government’s intentions are above board, why are they not going by the book and using the Land Acquisition Law, 2013? They are not promising us jobs, they don’t want to do any social impact assessment, hold public hearing for the project or even listen to our objections. They are now promising us compensation as per the 2013 law but acquisition is being done under 1955 law. How does one believe such a government?’’ asked Sanjay More, a Kalyan taluka level former BJP worker, who quit the party disappointed with the way the state government was proceeding with the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway project. More and his family (including four siblings) will lose seven acres in Chinchavali village in Kalyan taluka, at the beginning of the expressway.

In the haste to get the project off the ground, the state government has indeed taken a short cut. It has resurrected a 1955 law, the Maharashtra Highways Act, to acquire land for the project, instead of using the more farmer friendly, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Law, 2013. In the bargain, several safeguards -- job entitlement per family, subsistence allowance, compensation to landless labourers, share in market value of land if the land is not developed, social impact assessment -- are missed out.

“The existing land acquisition law is just not viable for any project. It would have delayed the expressway by ten years. We thought land pooling option would make farmers stakeholders in the development process but for some reason, we got a poor response. Everyone has heard of the 2013 law so farmers expect greater value for their land, so we are using the 2013 law to offer compensation,’’ admitted a senior government official.

The government’s land pooling option on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s formula for its capital, Amravati, offered farmers 25 to 30 per cent of developed land back in the 24 nodes or smart cities to be built along the highway. The farmers were also offered an annuity of Rs30,000 to Rs60,000 per acre for ten years with a ten per cent increase every year.

But, this option didn’t have too many takers.

Vango Choudhary, 96, and Gopal Choudhary, 90, from Danbao village in Kalyan said the Prosperity Corridor should be renamed the ‘Destruction Corridor’ as it will ruin farmers. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT)

“What do we do with that developed piece of land? There is no clarity when the government will complete building these smart cities. We don’t know when and where we will get that developed plot for starters. It could be near my village or the next taluka. More importantly, how will my family of 25 live off this plot of land after I lose my livelihood,” asked Khandu Gopal Choudhary, former sarpanch of Danbao village in Thane district and a successful vegetable farmer, whose joint family’s 62 acres will be lost to the project

The state is now selectively using the Land Acquisition law to offer compensation – four times the value of the land (ready reckoner rates) – in a direct settlement to woo landowners to sell their land.

“The compensation package is being worked out in every district by a committee led by the collector, by considering ready reckoner rates, past land deals etc. The government is offering five times the value of land in a direct settlement. There can’t be a more competitive package,’’ said Kiran Kurundkar, joint Managing director of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).

Farmers who refuse to opt for direct settlement and whose lands fall in the right of way of the expressway will face acquisition. Such farmers will also lose out on the incentive offered by the government. That acquisition will be done as per the 1955 law, which was dusted off after five decades. It was amended last year just before MSRDC first issued notice of land measurement.

Champa Jadhav (second from left) from Uttane village in Kalyan will lose 2 acres of her paddy and vegetable fields to the project. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT )

Farmers vs Govt

“Our husbands will have to work as watchmen in their fancy cities and our children will work in toll booths. That is the government’s definition of ‘development’ for us. They got the police with them to measure our lands and when we protested they put everyone, even women and youngsters, in police vans for a day. They can take away our lands over our dead bodies,’’ said Champa Jadhav, who will lose paddy fields in Uttane village in Thane district to the expressway.

Uttane’s villagers will lose all the fields they have barring the ‘gaothan’, the main village area, if the government goes ahead with the plan of developing a smart city or an agro-prosperity centre here. Around 31 villagers will lose their land to the expressway and have now got direct settlement notice from the government.

While the government maintains most farmers support the expressway and the protests are only in some ‘pockets’, HT met several farmers in Nashik (epicentre of the ongoing agitation) and Thane district, who were angry with the way the administration was going ahead with the project.

“In both Shahapur and Kalyan taluka, a majority of the gram sabhas have opposed the project by passing resolutions against it. Villagers have filed objections in thousands to the notices advertised by the government. Some of the villages fall under eco-sensitive zone demarcation, others fall in scheduled areas (predominantly tribal population). But, there is no recognition of our objections,’’ said Baban Harne of the protesting Samruddhi Mahamarg Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti.

Even the survey of lands, which is supposed to be a joint exercise with land owners present, has been carried out by giving show cause notices to farmers in many of the villages or herding them for a day in police vans.

“In our village police have registered criminal cases against youngsters. They came with a force of 600 personnel to do land measurement and carried out lathi charge. How is this taking farmers into confidence,’’ asked Chandrakant Bhoir, former sarpanch of Falegaon village, who was put behind bars for ten days for his role in leading the protests.

The charges of highhandedness were brushed away by the authorities. “The police force is for protection of our staff. And, they have been pressed into service only in villages where there is security concern. Otherwise there has been no highhandedness with villagers. There are only pockets of protests and resistance but for some reason that gets the most media attention,’’ said Kurundkar.

But, activists say that the huge gap between what the authorities say and what the farmers believe points to a crisis of credibility.

If the Mumbai-Nagpur highway is built, it will swallow the lush vineyards, vegetable gardens and 70 natural wells that supply water to at least 240 acres of land on both sides of Shivde village. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT)

Taking away irrigated lands...

In Nashik, the face-off between the administration and farmers turned violent in Shivde village and halted the land measurement temporarily. Shivde’s grape farmers export their produce to Europe as do four other villages affected by the project. Shivde will lose 72 acres of grape vineyards and 70 wells. Other villages being acquired for the project in the Nashik region fall in the vegetable belt.

“This is the vegetable belt of the state, but we are small farmers. Many farmers here own less than an acre but it’s enough to feed their families unlike a one-time compensation. I have educated both my children solely through my meagre landholding,’’ said Shahaji Pawar, a graduate from Sonambe village in Nashik, who didn’t find a job and settled into the family occupation of agriculture.

He owns 1.4 acres that will be lost to the project. Currently, garlic and onions grown on this plot gets exported from the Nashik Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee.

Under the Land Acquisition Law of 2013, irrigated lands cannot be taken away unless in exceptional circumstances; in this case the law doesn’t apply. The state authorities, however, said that only 12 per cent of the land being acquired is irrigated and this problem exists only in the Nashik belt.

First Published: Jun 12, 2017 09:23 IST