IN THE latest turn of screw in its attempt to bury the contentious SYL canal project all the more deep, the SAD-BJP government in Punjab announced a financial aid of Rs 10,000 per acre on Wednesday as “diesel expenses” to farmers for levelling the canal project land already returned to them.
Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia made this announcement at Kapoori on Wednesday, saying he had been directed by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal to inform farmers that they would be given Rs 10,000 per acre by way of diesel expenses to level the land transferred back to them. Majority of the farmers, who are set to get back possession of the land and Rs 10,000 per acre to level it, have claimed enhanced compensation against their acquired land not once, but thrice, in several cases.
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Initially, a total compensation of Rs 20.95 crore was paid to the farmers against nearly 3,980 acres for the main SYL canal alone spanning 122 kilometres in Punjab. A total of 316 awards for collective chunks of land were announced for the main canal land, which included an award against a chunk of land measuring over 11 acres where a colony related to SYL project was set up in Rajpura.
Another 1,334 acres were acquired for network of distributaries, a part of the SYL project. The distributaries were to run into a length of 495 kilometres traversing through different areas along the main SYL canal from which water was to be supplied to the farmers for irrigation.
An irrigation department official said farmers claimed enhanced compensation on different grounds. “Some said that while deciding the compensation at the time of acquiring the land, their chahi land (irrigated by canal water) was wrongly classified as berani (barren). Others claimed that there were trees on their land and demanded cost of the trees. Some argued to get better rate for their land. The department did oppose their claims in the court, but in most of the cases, the farmers managed to get enhanced compensation, many of them thrice,” said the official.
In March this year, when the Punjab Assembly passed a bill to denotify the SYL land, The Indian Express visited a number of farmers whose land was acquired for the project. Balwinder Singh, sarpanch of Naggal village in SAS Nagar district, had told them, “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 Punjab and Haryana High Court.”
According to Balwinder, eight kanal five marlas of his family land were acquired in Khooni Majra village for a distributary that was to be linked to the main SYL canal.
“When farmers started getting enhanced compensation, it started a kind of chain reaction with more and more farmers moving court to claim the enhanced compensation,” said the irrigation official, wishing not to be named.
Moreover, at several places, digging never took place for the distributaries while at others, dug distributaries were later levelled. Farmers started cultivating the land despite getting compensation. Avtar Singh of Khooni Majra village told this paper in March, “Although the land was acquired, digging never happened. We are cultivating the land and no one objected.” “Not only that but farmers are cultivating the land at several places. The distributaries project land has also been encroached upon at some places and constructions came up there. We have filed cases in the courts under Public Premises Act (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants),” said an irrigation official, wishing not to be named.“There is no case of enhanced compensation pending now,” said irrigation secretary Kahan Singh Pannu. He said there could be “a case or two” filed under Public Premises Act (Eviction and Unauthorised Occupants), but such cases were “irrelevant” now after the state government has now returned the land to farmers. Majithia handed over fard (revenue record) to establish property rights of farmers during a function at Kapoori village on Wednesday.