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Turbulence: Jewar Airport Project

First conceptualised in 2001, the proposed Jewar airport project stands at a crucial stage — land acquisition. As the Uttar Pradesh government makes a final push to get consent from residents of six villages, it will have to negotiate demands for increased compensation, a divide between farmers, and wounds from seven years ago.

Written by Sukrita Baruah |
September 3, 2018 1:14:16 am
Jewar Airport Project Around 93% of the 1,334 hectares of land to be acquired from the six villages comprises private agricultural plots (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha).

“Tell me, does this look like an urban area to you?” asked Bhagwan Singh, pointing to the pastoral landscape he calls home. The air steeped with the earthy smell of cow dung, Singh’s house is a five-minute walk from vast fields of wheat, paddy, pulses and maize. On the face of it, there’s no arguing with him. But his village, Rohi, is among six villages at the centre of a tussle between farmers and state authorities over whether they should be classified as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’.

The six villages — Rohi, Dayanatpur, Kishorpur, Parohi, Ranhera and Banwari Bas — in Gautam Budh Nagar’s Jewar tehsil have been earmarked for the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh government’s prized project, a greenfield international airport, which received the go-ahead from the Civil Aviation Ministry last year after being a talking point for nearly 17 years.

But the process of acquiring land from villagers, which began in May this year, has been fraught with difficulties — to the extent that officials from the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA), the nodal agency for the project, last month, suggested the possibility of the project not taking place in the area. Under the 2013 Land Acquisition Act, the state is mandated to obtain the consent of 70% of the 2,200 families that have to give up their land. “The Chief Minister is very clear that this project will only take place with farmers by our side. If consent doesn’t come our way, it will not take place here,” said YEIDA CEO Arun Vir Singh.

Compensation confusion

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The primary bone of contention is recognition of this land as ‘urban’ which, farmers claim, entitles them to a compensation that is roughly half of what they would get if the land was classified as ‘rural’.

According to a social impact assessment report prepared by Gautam Buddha University in July, around 93% of the 1,334 hectares of land to be acquired from these villages comprises private agricultural plots — more than 75% of which are small and marginal holdings less than one hectare.

Read | Jewar Airport Project plan: Decongest IGI, give airlines a boost

“What was a village all this while suddenly ceased to be one this year. My two-year tenure as village pradhan was nullified on May 18, when the accounts I maintain were closed by the state government,” said Tejbir Singh of Kishorpur. On May 18, the state government had notified 16 villages — including Rohi, Kishorpur, Parohi and Banwari Bas — under Article 12A of the UP Industrial Area Development Act 1976, which ended the panchayat system and categorised them as urban areas. In Dayanatpur and Ranhera, a similar process had already taken place in 2016.

To understand how land is notified in such a way, one needs to go back to April 2001, when a body was constituted by the state government to execute the Taj Expressway Project, now called the Yamuna Expressway. The government notification that led to the creation of the Taj Expressway Industrial Development Authority, now YEIDA, assigned it the following “main responsibilities”:

* Acquisition of land for construction of the expressway and area development.

* Preparation of a master plan and zonal plan for planned development along the expressway.

* Development of drainage, feeder roads, electrification and other facilities.

Jewar Airport Project Landowners of Kishorpur give their thumbprints on consent forms to officials from Jewar tehsil. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

“Setting up industrial townships is the mandate on which YEIDA was created, and notifying areas as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ is a part of that process. It was in keeping with this mandate that the May 18 notification was issued, putting 16 more villages as part of an industrial township, and taking the total number of villages notified as urban areas under YEIDA to 96,” said a senior government official.

Officials also claimed that notifying land as ‘urban’ is necessary to provide residents access to certain amenities. “Only then can certain services — roads, drainage, regular water and electricity supply — be provided by YEIDA,” said the official.

Most residents, though, aren’t readily buying into this explanation. Many say that such a move right before land acquisition for the airport is meant to deprive farmers of higher compensation for their land.

In public meetings held in villages by state officials since May-end, residents have constantly demanded that they be given four times the circle rate. “If we are going to be compensated as ‘urban’ land, circle rate too should be on par with rates in truly urban areas like Noida. The circle rate here, Rs 900 per square metre, has not been revised since 2015,” said Bhagwan Singh.

But Deputy Collector of Gautam Budh Nagar Abhay Singh, who used to be the Jewar tehsildar, said the demand is impractical. “Circle rates are determined by market forces. Market value of land here has been dipping for the last few years as supply far exceeds demand. The Gautam Budh Nagar administration has kept the circle rate constant throughout the district, despite this. Once the airport development project kicks off, market value will shoot up.”

Read | Seeking landowner consent for Jewar airport, MLA goes village to village

Take it or leave it

Amid pressure from landowners, the UP government last month sought to make the compensation plan more lucrative: Rs 2,300 per square metre for landowners; a job at the proposed airport for one member of each family; a residential plot sized 50% of the one they currently own; and double the value of their existing home to carry out construction of a new one.

This, residents say, has created a divide of sorts. Many farmers have been approaching authorities to submit their consent since the announcement — as of September 1, the number stood at 1,591. But for some, the deal is nowhere close to the Rs 3,600 per square metre they have been demanding.

“Some in the village have become brokers of the government and are persuading others to accept the deal. All those running to the government have one or two bighas of land. Those of us who will have to contribute a lion’s share refuse to accept this offer,” said Hakkam Khan of Kishorpur, who owns 35 acres.

Tejbir Singh agreed, but offered a different take: “In this village, 70% are people with two bighas of land or less, and they make a living through sheer labour. We want this airport here and will accept a reasonable deal. Those opposing it are the 10 big farmers who make money from smaller farmers by giving loans on high interest.”

Another fault line has emerged between landowners from the village and those who have purchased land from farmers over the years. “Around 10% of the land in our village has been bought by people from outside — Delhi, Haryana and so on. They are happy to give their consent since they have no attachment to this land and are happy to take the money and leave. This land is our inheritance and legacy,” said Harvinder Singh from Dayanatpur, who owns 40 bighas.

Missing from the conversation, though, are those who will be displaced, but stand to gain nothing — labourers without agricultural land. Apart from agricultural land, residential structures in Kishorpur, Dayanatpur and Rohi will also be impacted by the first phase. The 1,653 structures include residences of those who do not own agricultural land. “We have not had any say in the developments. I have no idea what will happen to people like us,” said Shafique from Kishorpur. A 32-year-old with three children, he makes about Rs 5,000 a month emptying trucks and working in the fields of farmers. His wife works in the fields during harvest season for Rs 150 a day.

Jewar Airport Project Land for Jewar airport UP (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

YEIDA sources said those without agricultural land would receive residential plots measuring 40 square metres, though Shafique claims he has heard no such thing so far. An official said, “A rehabilitation officer will be appointed and a survey will be carried out of all those to be rehabilitated. A separate ‘landless list’ will be prepared as part of the survey and their requirements will be accounted for.”

Read | For Jewar airport, government to speed up land deals

Old wounds

Adding to the mistrust between landowners and authorities is the 2011 Bhatta-Parsaul agitation, which looms like a spectre even today.

The process of identifying and acquiring land for projects — housing societies, expressways, industries and townships — had gained momentum in 2011 in Jewar, following the constitution of YEIDA. But the march towards ‘modernisation’ was punctuated when the Jat-dominated villages of Bhatta-Parsaul became the centre of a violent agitation.

Tensions started with the alleged abduction of two UP transport department officials and their driver, who had gone to the area to inspect a bus route — after locals mistook them for officials conducting land acquisition. The days that followed witnessed the death of four persons, including two policemen, and played out in campaigns ahead of the 2012 Assembly polls in the state.

“Before the recent airport developments drew attention, this area was known most for the Bhatta-Parsaul incident. Everyone here remembers it and no one wants a replay. We want our due to be peacefully given to us — farmers’ sentiments should not be ignored, that’s a lesson from history,” said Mohammad Imran, a farmer from Kishorpur.
But even as the violence from seven years ago weighs heavily on residents, they are acutely aware that negotiations falling apart now could translate to them — and the state — losing out on massive development. At least two states, Haryana and Rajasthan, are learnt to be interested in the airport project.

Kesri Singh, Rajasthan’s director for civil aviation, said, “Yes, the state is very much interested and had also made a proposal to this effect. We have also identified 4,500 acres, next to the Delhi-Mumbai corridor.”
A source in the UP administration said, “Officials from the Centre had called the UP government asking them about the project… Haryana has 2,500 acres already under them, and the project could shift there if the UP government does not acquire the land required.”

In the face of such uncertainty, residents said the written word could move things forward. “We want fleshed out details of all three aspects of compensation — money, job and residential land — in writing. I don’t trust the way the government functions, and don’t want to move forward until the compensation is guaranteed to us, legally,” said Imran.

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