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Farmers up in arms over shifting of jail

Shifting Central Jail from Amritsar to Bhallapind on the Amritsar-Ajnala road has farmers up in arms. Farmers see no logic behind shifting since the present jail complex is spread over 89 acres. Further, shifting of jail would mean kin of prison inmates will have to travel another 17 km from Amritsar

punjab Updated: Apr 27, 2012 11:16 IST
Harkirat Singh and Aseem Bassi
Harkirat Singh and Aseem Bassi
Hindustan Times

It is said that a reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

This quote of George Bernard Shaw seems to hold true in the case of Punjab where there seem to be a lot of unreasonable men on whom depends the progress of this state.

Why else would those who run the government think of shifting the Central Jail from Amritsar to Bhallapind on the Amritsar-Ajnala road?

The proposal drawn up by the government is to build the central jail on around 80-85 acres of land at Bhallapind. There seems no logic behind this as the present Central Jail complex is on 89 acres of land. Further, it would mean that those who want to meet their relatives undergoing imprisonment will have to travel another 17 km from Amritsar and likewise the cops will be overburdened escorting undertrials for court hearings in the city.

For the purpose of the new jail complex, the government proposes to acquire 50-55 acres land belonging to the loss-making cooperative sugar mill and the remaining from the farmers of the area.

Land was acquired by the government for setting up the mill as well as a sugarcane research farm for promoting cane cultivation through better seeds to the area growers. Initially, when the mill came into existence in 1989 the land was utilised for growing sugarcane seed and supplying it to the farmers but as the mill began running into losses, the authorities contracted out the land to farmers for growing wheat and paddy.

Another logic put forth by the government is that the Amritsar Central Jail was overcrowded and hence a new complex was required. However those opposed to the shifting point to the tracts of land lying vacant outside the high walls of the prison but within the complex comprising of residences of jail officials.

Farmers ready for agitation

As the farmers gear up for a prolonged battle with the government, Surjeet Singh who is a member of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Naujawan Sabha, sits in his farmhouse adjoining the mill and surveys the golden yellow ripened wheat crop.

He is worried as his land which is adjacent to the mill farm may also be acquired and hence he too is actively participating in the proposed agitation which is to be launched under the banner of the Jamhuri Kisan Sabha.

"What is the logic behind shifting a complex which is on 89 acres of land and close to Amritsar to an area of 80-85 acres. The only answer I have is that this is being done to benefit those in power as the land closer to the city will be worth a couple of hundred crores. So our government is in the property dealing business," alleged Surjeet Singh while talking to HT at his farmhouse on Wednesday.

Joining Surjeet is his friend Sucha Singh whose 9 acres have also been identified for acquisition. Though the promised rate that he has heard from revenue officials is a whopping Rs 30-35 lakh per acre but he is in no mood to part with even an inch of land.

"The farmers whose land was acquired for the sugar mill and the farm never got what they were promised and to this day many of them could not rebuild their lives. It is difficult to rebuild a nest once it is demolished", Sucha said.

Unfulfilled promises

For setting up the sugar mill and the research farm a total of 125 acres land was acquired. The research farm came up on 70-72 acres while the rest forms part of the mill complex. The land of seven families for this purpose and the compensation paid was a mere Rs 40,000 per acre against the then market rate of Rs one lakh.

Parminder Singh who gave up 11 acres of his land said that they were all very happy that the sugar mill will be a boon to the farmers. However this did not happen as the farmers who gave up their land got a raw deal.

The promises include a permanent job to one member of each family whose land was acquired, extension of the power supply from the industrial feeder to the farmers of the village, supply of sugar at controlled rates and supply of good quality cane seed. Except for giving permanent jobs to two persons from these families, the remaining people of the village got employment on daily wages in the cane crushing season.

"People from outside were brought in and given permanent jobs. We never ever got our promised quota of sugar what to talk of supplying quality cane. Only for two years sugarcane was cultivated on the land we gave and thereafter the land was given on contract for cultivation of wheat and paddy" said Parminder while standing in a wheat field which once belonged to him.

Parminder revealed that after seeing the attitude of the mill authorities they filed a court case for more compensation. A year or two back the court directed the public sector unit to pay the farmers whose land was acquired an additional amount of Rs 12,000 per acre.
"To this day none of us have got this additional amount", claimed Parminder.

Manjit Singh another farmer whose land was acquired for the mill said that the government was luring the farmers now with a lucrative price of Rs 30-35 lakh per acre which was higher than the market price. However this price being offered to farmers will be nothing in comparison to the price of land where the Central Jail is presently located.

"The government thinks that we are illiterate and idiots. We know whose pockets are going to swell up", said Manjit while advocating that the land that they had parted should remain with the sugar mill.

Mill losses

Like other public sector sugar mill, this one too is in the red zone. The estimated losses are a whopping Rs 13.72 crore which include outstanding payments to farmers for the cane purchased.

Barring for a couple of season at the start the mill has never run for the entire crushing season of four-five months. This season the crushing period lasted for a mere 62 days due to non-availability of sugarcane as the public sector unit failed in its primary motive of promoting cane cultivation in the area.

"We are not the only ones in a loss, the other cooperative sugar mills are also in the same situation. I have nothing to say on the new jail project as it is a government decision", the mill's General Manager MP Singh told HT.

Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Rajat Aggarwal when contacted said that there was no proposal to close the mill. He added that the government only intended to use that part of the land, which had been leased out (on contract) and was being used to cultivate wheat, to construct the jail, adding that the final decision on whether the land was to be used for this purpose or not, was yet to be taken.

Dr Satnam Singh Ajnala, president, Jamhuri Kisan Sabha, said that the construction of a central jail on the land belonging to the sugarcane farm would tantamount to financial losses for the sugarcane cultivators. He pointed out that there was enough vacant land within the Central Jail premises at Amritsar which could be utilised for expansion purposes as the government claims that the jail is overcrowded.

Rattan Singh Randhawa of the Border Area Sangarsh Committee cited the example of the sugarcane farm at Jalandhar, 164 acres of which, according to him, were given for construction of a hospital in 1992-1993. "As a consequence of this action, sugarcane research is still lagging behind," he said.

Amritsar Central Jail

Amritsar Central Jail came into existence in the present complex in 1957 as a district jail. Upgraded as Central Jail in 1969, it was elevated as headquarter jail seven years later with administrative control over all the prisons in the Majha and Doaba regions.

The prison has been accommodating 2,200-2,500 prisoners against a sanctioned capacity of 1,000. A portion of this prison has been notified as internee camp for the entire state to accommodate foreigners awaiting deportation.

First Published: Apr 26, 2012 22:00 IST