An irrigation scheme not yet widely known outside Haryana has triggered protests by farmers in the state, and their discontent seems likely to be reflected in a storm in the Assembly when it meets on October 23. Among the questions raised by the farmers’ anger are those of delayed infrastructure projects and inevitably rising costs, as well as fair compensation for land acquired — of importance almost everywhere in India.
What is the Dadupur-Nalvi Irrigation Scheme?
The Dadupur-Nalvi Irrigation Scheme was conceived in 1985 to recharge groundwater and take canal irrigation to the districts of Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra and Ambala. 190 acres were acquired under Devi Lal’s government in 1987-90, but work on the scheme was not taken up until 2003. At the fag end of his term, in November 2004, Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala laid the foundation stone of the project, whose cost was then estimated at Rs 167.62 crore. In October 2005, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government gave fresh approval to the project, which was now estimated to cost Rs 267.27 crore. On September 27, 32 years after the project was conceived, and after Rs 304 crore had been spent on it, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s cabinet decided to scrap it, and denotify and return to farmers 1,019 acres of land that had been acquired.
Why was this decision taken?
In May 2016, Punjab & Haryana High Court ruled, on a petition by a group of farmers, that compensation for land acquired after 2005 should be at the rate of Rs 1.16 cr per acre, plus incidental charges — which worked out to Rs 566.49 cr for 167.27 acres. The government has now decided that the project is no longer feasible. “The rate awarded by the HC is roughly 23 times the Land Acquisition Collector’s original award. Other farmers whose land, too, was acquired after 2005, may now approach the court,” a senior officer of the Haryana Irrigation Department said. Officials said the Collector rate in villages in which land for the scheme has been acquired ranges from Rs 17 lakh to Rs 53 lakh per acre, but is mostly between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 30 lakh per acre.
The government challenged the High Court order before the Supreme Court, but did not get any relief. “If we do not disburse the compensation as directed by the High Court, the court can attach government properties. We may also face contempt of court. In these circumstances, the government’s legal experts suggested that we should denotify the land,” the official said.
What was the aim of the Scheme?
To irrigate 92,532 hectares of land, besides recharging groundwater. 590 cusecs of surplus water from the Dadupur complex was to be carried through the Shahbad feeder. The complex, in Yamunanagar district, was meant to regulate excess water in the local rivers Som and Pathrala, and in the Western Yamuna Canal. The main part of the canal project was known as the Shahbad feeder, and was to run through Yamunanagar district. A total 2,246.53 acres were planned to be acquired, of which only 1,019 acres were acquired. “Farmers didn’t want to give up land for an irrigation channel that promised water only during the monsoon, when it was not required,” an official said. So, has any part of the canal been constructed? At what cost?
Rs 303.5 cr have been spent. Rs 192.33 cr have been paid to landowners for 1,019 acres. The government has also spent Rs 111.167 cr on execution of three channels: Shahbad Feeder, Shahbad Distributory and Nalvi Distributory. Shahbad Distributory and Nalvi Distributory are the only constructed water channels of the canal’s main part, the Shahbad Feeder. The construction of 23 minor distributaries offtaking from the Dadupur Nalvi canal could not be completed, rendering the main canal useless. The CAG in 2013 observed that expenditure on the scheme was unfruitful, as the primary objective of irrigation could not be achieved.
But if farmers didn’t want the canal to begin with, why are they upset now that it has been scrapped?
They are angry because the government wants back the compensation money paid at the time of acquisition, along with interest at the rate of 15%. “Why the interest? What’s our fault? They sat on our land for years. Now we have to level the denotified land that has been dug to a depth of 15-20 feet. The excavated earth was lifted long ago, so we will need to bring earth from elsewhere for the levelling,” said Ishwar Singh of Bhagwanpur in Yamunanagar district, who gave five acre of land acquired for the canal. Farmers are on an indefinite dharna in Jagadhari town of the district.
How have political parties reacted?
Both opposition leaders, Hooda and Chautala, enjoy considerable support among farmers. Hooda and the INLD’s Abhay Singh Chautala (Om Prakash Chautala is in jail) have launched an agitation demanding the canal be completed. The BJP government has been hard put to reason with the farmers: “If the project’s cost hadn’t increased so much, we would have continued it,” Chief Minister Khattar has said. Meanwhile, the legal fight continues — the government has filed a revision petition in the HC.