No one is seeking our opinion: Farmers in bullet train corridor

Farmers in “Charotar belt” of Gujarat's Kheda district say they are clueless about the path the land acquisition will take as neither officials of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) nor the state government has informed them.

Written by Avinash Nair | Kheda (gujarat) | Published: June 9, 2018 11:45:12 am
No One Is Seeking Our Opinion: Farmers In Bullet Train Corridor Pillars erected by NHSRCL divide the land owned by brothers Sanjay and Shailesh Patel, at Mahij village in Kheda. (Express Photo by Avinash Nair)

A concrete pole on a vegetable farm belonging to Shankersinh Chauhan of Chhapra village in Kheda — one of the most fertile districts of Gujarat — is a symbol of the imminent land acquisition for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project.

Chauhan (50) says, “I don’t want to part with my land for the bullet train project. I and my son have been taking three crops every year for the past several decades and we earn over Rs 6 lakh annually.

Farmers in this “Charotar belt” of the district say they are clueless about the path the land acquisition will take as neither officials of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) nor the state government has informed them. Gujarat government officials, on the other hand, claim that the farmers who will lose land for the project will be awarded compensation “more than the existing market rates.”

“Nobody is asking for our opinion. We feel that interests of farmers are being sacrificed. A couple of months ago, some persons came to our farm, identified themselves as officials of bullet train and set up a concrete pole right in centre of my field. When I asked them to move it to a side, because it divided my farm in two unequal halves, rendering one portion useless, they refused,” said Chauhan, who is among those farmers who had missed going to the 2nd Stakeholders Consultation meeting held at Nadiad on April 4, 2018, for want of timely intimation.

“We are not sure what the future holds for us. There are about 20-odd farmers in our village who will be losing their land. Does a motley group like ours stand a chance against the will of the government,” asks Chauhan.

The Indian Express visited several villages in the district and found that little had been done to allay the fears of the farmers regarding the land acquisition process. Farmers complained of no information about the acquisition process and most of them said the forms they filled up were in English and they were wary about the contents.

At many places, farmers, especially those with smaller land holdings — were unwilling to part with their land as it would put them out of farming. Such farmers were found seeking government jobs. Some farmers were unwilling only because the elevated corridor would divide their farms into unequal parts, rendering a portion useless for farming. The unwillingness among farmers to give up land has caused concern among Japanese officials helping in implementation of the 508-km project which will cost over Rs 1,08,000 crore.

The pamphlets distributed among farmers, introducing “India’s first bullet train” project, states that the NHSRCL would be acquiring 612 hectares in Gujarat, 7.5 hectares in Dadra and Nagar Haveli and 246 hectares in Maharashtra. The total Project Affected Persons in Gujarat is 5,404 — the highest is in Ahmedabad at 1196 followed by Kheda at 783.

The state government has already issued primary notifications for acquiring land in 165 pockets of Gujarat which includes both urban and rural areas. While villages in Chhapra have not seen this notification, about 30 km away, in Mahij village of the same district, a copy of the official notification (dated May 4, 2018) hangs by a thread at the village panchayat office. “We have been asked to display this notice. About five hectares will be acquired in this village. Three hectares is private land and belongs to 18 farmers,” says Mehul Patel, the office clerk.

Letters from NHSRCL sent to Mahij panchayat about the acquisition process reveal that the first Stakeholder consultation for the project was conducted in all the “tehsils” in December 2014. However, none of the farmers The Indian Express spoke to had a clue about the meeting.

Patel says NHSRCL officials visited the village in February 2018 and instructed project-affected farmers to fill the forms. “All the forms were in English and I had to explain to farmers that details about their income, total number of family members, land holdings and other details were sought.”

Himanshu Patel, a farmer from Mahij, said he attended the 2nd Stakeholders Consultation meeting at Nadiad on April 4. “There was a lot chaos and police had to be called in. But we heard the officials saying that every farmer will get four times the jantri rate (a ready-reckoner of prices fixed by the state government). Despite the money being offered, I do not want to part with my fertile land. We do not have a future if we lose our land. If the government is adamant then they should offer us government jobs as part of the compensation package,” he says.

Larger farmers like Sanjay (50) and Shailesh Patel (55) who co-own about 100 bighas in Mahij say they are not averse to giving land for the project. “They have erected a pole in our farm. Now, our tubewell and the cattle shed lies on one side of this pole and our farm lies on the other. We have been told that they are going to construct a service road under the elevated bullet train section. So what we are seeking is right of passage. They should not barricade the service road. We have no other objection. After all the project is for the nation,” says Sanjay Patel.

Achal Khare, managing director of NHSRCL, during his recent visit to Gandhinagar had said the company will be issuing “entitlement cards” to 6000 private land owners whose land will be acquired in Gujarat and Maharashtra. This card, according to him will contain photograph, bank account details and the compensation details which will be finalised after the ongoing joint measurement survey is completed. These cards were planned to be distributed to “allay fears” among farmers about the acquisition process.

Meanwhile, Gujarat government has said it offer compensation “more than the prevailing market rates” and that the acquisition process will be conducted as per the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2016. “We will be either be offering 4.75 times the existing jantri prices or the average rate of sale of land that has happened within a 1.5 kilometer radius of the land that is being acquired, whichever is higher. At many places, this will be more than the market rate,” said Hareet Shukla, Secretary & Commissioner (Land Reforms), Revenue Department, Government of Gujarat.

Now the notifications have been done, the state government expects to reach out to farmers individually. “The land acquisition officer will visit each and every farmer and given them individual notices regarding the acquisition. Objections will be sought and then they will be asked to submit their documents. The amount of compensation will be decided at a later stage,” Shukla said.

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