At a little over 5 feet, Keshav Mengal is one of the faces of the protests in this area against acquisition of land for one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects being spearheaded by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. It’s a project that plans to connect Mumbai and Nagpur through an eight-lane super communication highway.
“The government claims that it wants to connect rural and urban areas. But what about poor folks like us. Soon you may find Igatpuri taluka turn into a place of farmers without land,” says Mengal.
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The Maharashtra government has planned a 710-km eight-lane Nagpur-Mumbai Supercommunication Expressway, to provide seamless connectivity across districts like Nagpur, Wardha, Amravati, Washim, Buldhana, Aurangabad, Jalna, Ahmednagar, Nashik and Thane. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is the nodal agency for the project.
The corridor is also likely to see development of 24 townships that would alter the landscape of 354 villages across 30 talukas. In Nashik district, it would snake through a 97-km stretch through Igatpuri and Sinnar talukas. The government has estimated that it would need to acquire land in 24 villages in Sinnar and 20 in Igatpuri. While the exact plan and details of the land needed to be acquired from these villages will be clear only after a full inspection, residents of some of these areas have refused to hand over their land. The MSRDC had to stop the survey work for a few days in Gonde due to resistance from locals.
“The landholdings of farmers in these areas are smaller compared to other parts of the district. Now, if you decide to take away a chunk of someone who holds only a hectare of land, how will people survive as agriculturists,” said Balu Kakad, a farmer from Igatpuri.
The plan document for the Rs 46,000-crore project says the purpose of the project is employment generation, growth of agricultural and agro-based activities, building infrastructure and slowing down the rate of migration from rural to urban Maharashtra. Rs 12,000 crore has been set aside for development of the 24 townships, which are supposed to be completed by 2019.
The total land acquisition required on the entire 710-km stretch is 20,820 hectares, of which 8,520 hectares would be for the road and nearly 12,000 hectares for development of the 24 nodes. In Nashik district, where problems are being faced, it will require 800 to 1,200 hectares.
Meanwhile, under the state’s acquisition policy, the farmers whose land have been acquired will be given alternate developed land, which would be a percentage of the total land acquired from them. For non-irrigated land, it would be 25 per cent and for irrigated land it would be 30 per cent of the total acquired land. The logic of returning only a small part of the total land acquired is that the value of the returned land goes up due to the development activities carried out by the state and the project-affected person thus gets compensated.
“Every acre of land given by farmers would fetch them between 10,000 to 13,000 sq ft of developed land depending on whether their land was irrigated or non-irrigated. The only difference is that it would be located in the same vicinity but at a distance from their original plot,” said MSRDC Managing Director R L Mopalwar.
However, the proposal has been met with scepticism by ruling alliance partner Shiv Sena, and elected representatives from the party are opposing the move. “We are not against development but the compensation that has been announced is not up to the mark. Land prices in Nashik district have skyrocketed over the past few years. The state needs to take into consideration the feelings of people who are parting with their land,” said Shiv Sena MP from Nashik Hemant Godse.
Officials of the MSRDC have however claimed that they will not force people to part with their land. They had deputed 30 interlocutors to interact with villagers in the area to create awareness about the project. The number of interlocutors have been increased to 45 now.
“There are issues with farmers in the region who are not willing to give their land. However, we are holding meetings with them to tell them about the benefit of the programme. There is resistance but we will be able to convince the farmers,” said Vitthal Sonawane, MSRDC Administrator, New Township, Nashik.
However, in spite of the state’s push, those like Keshav Mengal are adamant about not giving up their fight.
“The industrialisation and growth in this area over the years have ensured that farmers in the area sold their farms. However, now we are fearful of even losing our homes. I doubt if I would even get space to stand on this area a few years down the line. This is a fight to ensure that we get the right to stay on our own land,” said Mengal.