M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Investigation — Govt as landgrabber-I
Divested of land, farmers face bleak future
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 19
For an 80-year-old, Gurcharan Singh is quite healthy, with ailments that accompany the ageing process not bothering him much. However, for the past few months, sleep has eluded him. For this he knows whom to blame: the Punjab government.

The reason: the government is planning to take away his most prized possession: a one-acre plot on the Amritsar-Jalandhar highway. The Punjab Urban Development and Planning Authority (PUDA) has already sent him a notice, informing him that his land, as also that of others, is being acquired for “public purpose”.

Nobody knows what this purpose is. All that Gurcharan Singh and others like him are sure of is that PUDA will pay them the proverbial peanuts and then go on to make a killing selling their land to affluent people.

All attempts at informing him that the government will pay “adequate” compensation in lieu of his land invite ridicule. “The land is bang on the highway. Its current worth is over Rs 2 crore. What will the government give me, a few lakh of rupees? But did anyone ask me whether I wished to sell my land?” he retorts.

While the Punjab and Haryana High Court is already seized of the matter after Gurcharan Singh and others filed a writ, he wonders if the PUDA has the “power” to acquire his land even though it falls within municipal limits.

What is adding to his worry is the fact that his only other land measuring seven acres in Sultanwind village is also going to be acquired, this one by the Amritsar Improvement Trust.

Gurcharan Singh is not alone in facing this misery, thousands of others, most of them small and marginal farmers, across Punjab are silently staring at a similar future.

Ever since it assumed power in 2002, the Capt Amarinder Singh Government has been on a land acquisition spree. Even though the Land Acquisition Act clearly says that the state can’t acquire land to give it to private parties, the government has done so in many cases.

Section 44-B of the Act says that no land can be acquired by the government for a private company except in cases where the purpose of such acquisition is to obtain land for erection of dwelling houses for workmen employed by the company, or for provision of amenities for them.

Thus, when property major DLF was giving final touches to its proposal to set up a special economic zone in Amritsar, it decided to “request the Government of Punjab to compulsorily acquire the land under the Land Acquisition Act” and allot it to the real estate major at the acquisition price.

Today, thousands of inhabitants of seven villages — Manawala, Jhitte Kalan, Jhitte Khurd, Rakh Jhitte, Mehma, Pandori and Bhagtupura — on the Amritsar-Jalandhar highway face the danger of losing their land and homes to a powerful, acquisitive state.

The villagers claim that after senior DLF officials who visited the area to try and assess the mood of the locals encountered stiff resistance, the company prevailed upon the government to issue a notification to compulsorily acquire the land on its behalf. And, the government is obliging.

“The government claims that at least 10,000 people will get jobs due to the SEZ. I say that since over 20,000 inhabitants of the seven villages will be affected, let the government and the company give it in writing that at least 5,000 inhabitants will get full-time employment at the SEZ. If this happens, we may change our attitude," asserts Baldev Singh, a landowner.

Adds Malkiat Singh Babbu, the local municipal councilor, "If the government and the DLF are so eager to create jobs, why are they hankering after such a prime piece of land? Let the company set up the SEZ somewhere else, where there is need for development."

It is not just DLF that is being extended this favour by the government. The Nahar Group of Industries had also requested the government to acquire land for its mega project on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway.

Land-owners also point to the fact that agencies like the PUDA adopt different standards while deciding the extent of compensation. They also allege that influential persons manage to get their land exempted from acquisition. A point in case being the decision of the Amritsar Improvement Trust to leave out 32 acres out of a total of 188 acres that it was acquiring for extension of New Amritsar sometime back. A private coloniser is now developing a housing project on that piece of land.

Angry villagers wonder if the government has ever given a thought as to what would happen to them after their land is taken away. "I have lived in this village since my birth, as did my parents and grandparents. We know each and every person in our village. Once we are uprooted, where will be go? Has the government given a thought to the fact that we will not only be losing our homes and lands, but will also lose a part of our identity?" laments ex-Subedar Balwant Singh, whose land is also under acquisition.

To be continued



Rs 211 cr relief for farmers

Chandigarh, September 19
The Punjab Government has decided to give a relief of Rs 211 crore to farmers as a one-time settlement of cooperative agricultural loans.

The government has also decided to give an interim relief of Rs 200 to Rs 300 per month to all employees pending the recommendation of the proposed Fifth Pay Commission.

The government has also decided to regularise the services of all ad hoc, work-charge and daily wage workers. — TNS



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