The presence of Shiv Sena leader and Minister for Public Works (Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation) Eknath Shinde during the land acquisition event for the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Corridor seems to have put the Sena, which had earlier attacked the project for destroying farmers’ livelihoods, on the backfoot. The Sena has been publicly siding with farmers opposing the project. After Shinde attended the event for the land acquisition, party chief Uddhav Thackeray held a press conference on Saturday to say that the Sena was still on the farmers’ side and the presence of Shinde at the event was to ensure that farmers did not get a raw deal.
“The Sena has not changed its stand on the issue. We are firm that farmers should get adequate compensation for their land and fertile and irrigated areas should not get affected. While such processes are conducted by officials, very rarely do you find ministers getting involved. The presence of Shinde during the land acquisition process was to ensure that farmers are not taken for a ride,” Thackeray said at a hurriedly called press conference on Saturday. The Shiv Sena had earlier claimed that the proposed expressway between Mumbai and Nagpur — the Samruddhi Corridor — will lead to a rise in farmers committing suicide in the state if the government forcibly takes away their irrigated land for the project.
“The government machinery is being misused to build this expressway which has caused a severe law and order issue. Protesting farmers are being beaten up and threatened with imprisonment if they hinder government work. The only thing left now is to cut off the heads of the protesters,” the Sena had said in an editorial in the party mouthpiece, Saamana, in May. However, Shinde, a senior Sena leader and a close confidant of Thackeray, has been part of the land acquisition process for the project and on Friday, in his capacity as minister of MSRDC, was present during the signing of the sale deeds to mark the land acquisition process for the project. The sale deeds were registered at Hingna tehsil office in Nagpur district on Friday. Shinde also appeared at another land registration event held in Shahapur on Saturday.
Thackeray on Saturday clarified that even though the Sena minister was present during the process, the party will allow the project to continue only if farmers are satisfied with the compensation. “There are some places where areas under greenery and irrigation are getting lost. If we dream of development we should not destroy someone else’s dream in the process. We can’t destroy farmers’ lives this way. For this reason we have been saying that the project can go ahead only when farmers are completely satisfied,” Thackeray said.
He also stated that the government should further hold consultations with farmers to see if the project can be redrawn to ensure minimum loss of fertile land. The Shiv Sena, which is involved in a battle of one-upmanship with its ally BJP, is trying hard to position itself as a pro-farmer party.