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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Rajasthan: Chest-deep in soil, farmers protest land acquisition

Farmers say they want compensation as per a 2014 law while the JDA is offering them 2010 rates.

Written by Hamza Khan | Nindar (jaipur) | Updated: January 10, 2020 8:54:11 am
Officials with a farmer at the protest site. (Express photo by Hamza Khan)

“In 2017, they made us call off our protest only to lathicharge us and put us in jail. This time, we are not leaving till our demands are met,” says Nagendra Singh Shekhawat (42), chest-deep in soil. Around him, four others are chest-deep in soil as other villagers look on.

Over two years after they first resorted to this unique form of protest against Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) moving to acquire their land, farmers of Nindar village along Jaipur-Sikar highway are agitating again after JDA restarted acquisition on January 1. The farmers say they want compensation as per a 2014 law while the JDA is offering them 2010 rates.

Following the protest in October 2017, an agreement had been reached between the farmers and JDA, then under the Vasundhara Raje government. However, soon after, JDA moved to acquire their land. When they protested, at least five of them were put in jail for 10 days, say the farmers.

“In January 2019, we gave a memorandum to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, hoping that JDA will take us into confidence before moving forward on Nindar Housing scheme,” says Shekhawat, convenor of Nindar Bachao Yuva Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. “Things were calm until all of a sudden JDA restarted land acquisition on January 1,” he says, adding that they started the agitation on January 7.

Farmers buried in mud pits in protest against JDA

Shekhawat says they want compensation as per Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, which came into force on January 1, 2014. “As of January 1, 2014, farmers had not surrendered land and JDA was yet to pay. Hence the new law should be applied,” says Shekhawat. “Right now, they are applying 2010 district lease committee rates and the year is 2020. Isn’t that unfair,” he asks.

“The Congress government at the Centre brought this law and when the Narendra Modi government tried to introduce changes in 2015, it had to step back following protests. Now there is a Congress government in Rajasthan, what is stopping them from implementing it,” he says.

“We are three brothers and have about 12 bighas between us. We make a living by growing millet, wheat, chickpea, mustard etc. and by rearing cattle. Once our land is taken, what will we do? The new law has a provision for employment for affected families. So we want to be compensated as per the new law,” says 62-year-old Sitaram Sharma, who had fainted while he was chest-deep in soil. Surajmal has taken his place.

According to the Samiti, over 1,300 bighas have been earmarked for the housing scheme out of which around 1,150 bighas are with farmers. “Nearly 650 bighas are yet to be surrendered,” claims Shekhawat.

Farmers also say that in exchange of their land, they will be compensated with one-fourth of their land within the housing scheme, but this will entail several charges such as lease money. “Also, there are multiple families living on a piece of land. Technically, the land may be in the name of one person, but it is divided between his or her children and their families. So, an example is that 40 people in a family will have to move and live on a land equivalent to a fourth of the land currently held by them,” says Babulal (70), a farmer at the protest.

Kailash Bohra (54), president of the Samiti, says JDA misled them in 2017 and this time the farmers will not call off the protest till there is a concrete decision. Apart from Shekhawat, Bohra and Surajmal, Shishupal and Gopal Kumawat are chest-deep in soil, even spending the winter nights there.

JDA Deputy Commissioner Manish Faujdar, who reached Nindar on Thursday, says, “Our process was complete before the new law came. And the acquisition process was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018.”

Shekhawat says, “None of the poor farmers here approached the court. They simply can’t afford it. None of these farmers were heard.”

Requesting farmers to call off the protest, Faujdar said they are better placed with the old rules and that JDA will share relevant documents to make them change their minds.

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