Mumbai-Nagpur highway cuts through farms, skirts investors’ land, say Maharashtra farmers

Farmers have questioned the need for building a greenfield project instead of just widening the highway

mumbai Updated: Jun 13, 2017 09:31 IST
Ketaki Ghoge, Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Mumbai-Nagpur highway,land aquisition
In 1972, Kolkewadi villagers lost their land to the Koyna dam project and were rehabilitated in Shahapur. Many of them are yetto get compensation promised by the government 40 years ago.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT)

An eight-lane controlled-access expressway, one would think, runs straight from point A to point B. But, the planned Mumbai-Nagpur expressway’s alignment even zig-zags at some places, and runs just 300m from the existing Mumbai-Nasik-Ghoti-Sinnar highway at some points.

Farmers who will lose their land to the new highway have questioned the need for building a greenfield project instead of just widening the existing highway. This would have, they point out, minimised impact on farmers.

Many have questioned how the alignment suspiciously misses land bought by outside investors but runs through their irrigated fields.

“The alignment of this expressway has changed several times. It conveniently skirts a developer’s township project situated right next to our irrigated fields. The realty project will lose just one bungalow, but we will lose 120 acres of paddy fields here. The old highway is close by, why can’t that be widened,’’ asks Shivram Mhaskar of Dalkhan village, a former sarpanch.

Shivram Mhaskar, former sarpanch of Dalkhan village in Shahapur, will lose his paddy fields to the project. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

So why is the government keen on building a new project instead of just widening the existing highway?

“The Indian Road Congress insists on a green field project for the expressway as old highways have limitations. The road widening comes at the expense of commercial establishments, hotels, shops and residences along the highway and causes a lot of displacement. The alignment of our road is as straight as possible and as per our measurement only 12 per cent of the land is completely irrigated,’’ claimed Kurundkar.

Farmers ask why disruption of their livelihood is less of a priority than the concerns of hotels and commercial establishments.

“Politicians make a big deal about the ‘kisan’ but his priorities are always second to everyone else’s. Even we know that agriculture is not productive, but the government thinks the way out of this crisis is to make farmers landless,’’ said Vinayak Pawar, president of the Shetkari Sanghatana Samiti in Shahpur taluka of Thane.

Pawar had complained to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis how large plots of land along the alignment were brought by serving and retired bureaucrats who knew beforehand the project was coming.

What next ?

With the farmers’ protests snowballing into a political controversy for the Fadnavis-led government, the state is looking to take a step back on the acquisition by first focussing on only the right of way for the expressway.

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar as well as Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray have waded into the issue promising to back the farmers.

“We are not looking to acquire land for the smart cities at this stage. We will focus on only the land required for the right of way and highway amenities. That is around 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres),’’ said Kurundkar. He added that six smart cities would be developed where farmers have not opposed the project.

At the same time, the MSRDC is not giving up on the idea of 24 smart cities because without these nodes the project loses its edge and viability.

The agency has already moved a proposal to be declared as special planning authority across 25,000 acres in these 10 districts, to ensure no planning or development takes place without their approval.

First Published: Jun 12, 2017 09:42 IST