‘They gave us a window, then went back to 1894’
Farmers of Bhatta and Parsaul villages discuss what they stand to gain and lose. (Source: Ravi Kanojia)
At Gautam Buddh Nagar prevails a sense of disquiet, of being cheated out of “even the little gains” made under the land Act of 2013. “Why the rush to change it ?” says a farmer.
Farmers here see a suspicious anxiety in the government and private players to “grab” their land just to bolster industry balance sheets. “Otherwise, why is it that the law allows me to hold only so many bighas while Jaypee has been given whole towns to make roads, schools and colleges that we cannot enter?”
Farmers here saw the Act of 2013, with its clauses on consent and social impact assessment, as a little window that allowed them to place their concerns on the table, besides offering them a chance to share in the prosperity that their land once acquired would bring. What bothers them now is the “hurry” that the government has shown in amending an Act that had “been around hardly a year”. Most are wondering if any promises have been made of sacrificing farmers’ interests for the sake of industry.
Bhatta and Parsaul, two neighbouring villages in greater Noida, became permanently hyphenated on May 7, 2011, as police firing on protesters against land acquisition resulted in the death of two farmers, one from either village, as well as two PAC constables.
Thousands of state police stormed the villages and, according to several accounts, scared the residents so deeply that they couldn’t return even to cremate their dead, the last rites taking place far from home. The bereaved families have since been trying to make ends meet, with no sign of any of the “development” promised.
At a time when UPA-2 was in power, the well-networked Thakur Dhirendra Singh had got Rahul Gandhi involved by constantly reporting to him and urging him to seize the moment to connect with farmers so close to New Delhi. He piloted Rahul literally on his motorcycle during a movement that shook Mayawati’s iron grip on UP. The state elections were due and the firing and the police build-up framed the idea of farmer-versus-state and “unscrupulous” private contractors. The Congress did not win as many seats in the assembly as it had hoped to, but this was what helped shape the new land Act in the Congress and the UPA’s imagination. The law was eventually enacted in 2013, with almost all parties across the board supporting it, the first law to amend the 1894 Land Acquisition Act.
Bhatta-Parsaul’s agitation and the Congress’ championing of farmers impacted by this acquisition, which had a context then, remains a test case today. For the twin villages so close to Delhi and anxious to benefit, information about what is being “planned” in Delhi “to reverse whatever little had been gained” is today the dominant suspicion.
Dhirendra Singh, speaking of the still-in-a-limbo state of farmers here, says the proposed changes aim to reverse the clock “closer to 1894”. “We are now planning to do things they understand there — a ‘Parsaul to Parliament’ march during this parliamentary session, on buggies, tractors and trolleys, other vehicles of the late 19th century. They want to drag the wheel back there, so we will get to Delhi in vehicles used in the olden times,” he says.
The Youth Congress will be part of the planned movement, on March 16.
Says Chandar Pal Singh, irritated by talk of acquisition when no industrialisation has happened: “This is a big dhokha. Industrialists the authorities sub-contract the acquisition to make cheap purchases from desperate farmers, and those who resist are tamed with arrest. If for bolstering their own books, industry wallahs just keep taking land but don’t build on it, what happens to the increasing population? Who will feed it?”
Other farmers, who say they had “voted for Narendra Modi”, feel the government “has been a shock”. One small farmer says “Modi aur mausam” are both concerns, referring to freak rains that have damaged crops substantially “with already low MSPs, no urea available, and getting beaten up in queues.”
Unconvinced by the recent “pro-poor” projection of the amendments, farmers say they are fully abreast of court rulings and the pressures for which the law needs to be amended. Chaudhry Devender Singh of Mirzapur senses a “fight” round the corner. Rather than hold just the present government responsible, he makes a case against “all goongi-behri sarkars who had been forced to hand farmers a reasonable deal, but who now want to roll it all back”.
Describing the things they want beyond “compensation”, Amar Pal Singh, head of the district Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, wants to know if it is achche din when musclemen of builders and private entities move in and “vikas becomes a euphemism for vinaash for the farmer”.
“Do they take us for fools for not seeing why the changes are being rushed through? There is no school, no facility, no industry. For the last 25 years, industry has been greedy to grab land. They give us money at Rs 800 per sq metre and sell it at Rs 50,000 within a year,” he says.
Mom Raj, an agricultural worker with no land and no funds for treatment of his bruised feet, has a family of eight to look after. He says the local authorities never organise MNREGA works, but the wages over the past few years got better because MNREGA work was on somewhere. “ Now if the land itself goes away, if the owners are not benefiting, what about so many of us? At the time, they had said we would become Naxalites and do loot-paat. Is there an option?”
Says Thakur Dhirendra Singh, “The problem is that the agriculture-industry equation is set to get worse. They grudge us the MSP, it is even called the ‘minimum’ support price. Look at how they think. The industrialist is all for hiking MRP, maximum retail price. Minimum vs maximum, that should summarise the difference for you, the way we see it.”
Source:: Indian Express