Amid all the frenzied activity to fill the Sutlej Yamuna Link canal after the Punjab Assembly passed a Bill to return 3,928 acres of land acquired for project, there are also former owners of some 1000-odd acres who are feeling left out and neglected.
A total of 5,376 acres was acquired for the SYL project. While 3,928 acres were for the 122 km stretch of the main SYL canal that was to supply water, the remaining land was acquired to set up a network of minors and distributaries from the main canal to irrigate fields in areas currently falling in Ropar, SAS Nagar, Fatehagrh Sahib and Patiala districts.
But the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Land (Return of Property Rights) Bill 2016 talks about four-fifths of the land acquired for the main canal, for which the compensation was paid by Haryana. There is no word on the remaining one-fifth acquired and paid for by Punjab.
While the main Sutlej Yamuna Link canal was supposed to carry 6,500 cusecs of water to Haryana, the 495 km of minor and distributaries that were planned for Punjab were to carry 900 cusecs of water.
Now, these farmers whose land was acquired for minors and distributaries are all set to join the bandwagon to demand return of the land. Their argument: when the main SYL canal is “unlikely to become functional” what is the point of minors and distributaries?
But it’s not as if they have been waiting all this time. At many places, the farmers have been cultivating the land even though it was transferred to the Punjab government after the compensation was paid — not once but as many as three times in some cases. Now they want legal sanction.
“Although the land was acquired, digging never took place. We are cultivating the land and no one ever objected to that. Now, since the Punjab Assembly has passed the Bill to return land acquired for main SYL canal, this land should also be returned to owners,” said Avtar Singh, a resident of Khooni Majra village in SAS Nagar district. “If the land is not returned to us, we will start an agitation.”
He said his family’s 11 kanal and 12 marlas of land was acquired in 1989 and a meagre amount was paid as compensation.
“We were six claimants to the land and we were paid only Rs 42,000 each. We had to reinstall tubewell at a cost of Rs 8 lakh to irrigate our other chunk of land as the existing tubewell, installed in the land that was acquired, had to be shifted,” said Avtar Singh.
Balwinder Singh, the sarpanch of Naggal village, whose eight kanal five marlas land was acquired in Khooni Majra village, was among those whose families managed to get compensation three times. “We were initially given a compensation of Rs 88,000. We moved court to seek enhanced compensation and were given another Rs 1.5 lakh. In 2012, we received more compensation, to the tune of Rs 5.5 lakh, on the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court,” said Balwinder.
Compared to this, there could be big bucks to be made if the land is transferred back to the farmers.
“Four to five years ago, a developer had purchased each acre of a nearby land of one of the farmers for Rs one crore. Now that Chief Minister [Parkash Singh Badal] has taken a stand to return the land of main SYL canal to original owners,we should also be given our land back,” said Balwinder.
At some places, the government did construct some channels but as no drop of water from Ravi-Beas ever flowed through the SYL, these never become functional either.
A 10-km channel starts from Hadayatpura village in Rajpura tehsil of Patiala district and passes through Urdan, Wazidpur, Mirzapur, Kotla, Gadomajra, Dhabali, Naiwala and ends at Dhakansu Khurd.
A total of 30 bigha land of Mirzapur village, near the Rajpura Thermal Power Plant, was acquired for the channel by the state government in 1986. Gurmeet Singh (55), whose six bigha and three biswa land came under acquisition, said the state government had at that time given Rs 52,000 per acre (1 acre = 4 bighas and 16 biswa) compensation.
“Since we were not satisfied, we approached the Patiala court, which, in 1993, doubled the compensation amount. Therafter, we went to the High Court seeking enhancement of the compensation and our 11 cases are still pending,” he added.
Avtar Singh of Mirzapur says, “Just like the main SYL canal is being filled up by nearby villagers, we will also remove the dry channel passing through our fields.”
A Wazidpur villager, Niranjan Singh (75) said the construction of channel had not only divided their fields but even the trees planted alongside the channel were of no use as the shade on wheat fields was not good for crops.
Gurdev Singh of Bir Singh Di Kheri village, too said: “As compared to filling main SYL canal, filling of distributaries would be much easier,” said. He said the family land had been acquired at two separate places for the distributory , kanals at once place, and five kanals and 17 marlas at other.
However, Mauji of Dhakansu Khurd near Rajpura said he wanted the government to construct the channel, as it would have provided water to poor farmers, which would have resultantly saved them from extracting underground water whose level is dipping every year.