M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Investigation — Govt as landgrabber-II
‘Take our land, but give us a place to live’
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Mohali, September 20
The biggest problem that landowners, whose land is compulsorily acquired by the government, face is resettlement and earning a livelihood.

Deprived of their homes and hearths, these landowners, a majority of whom are small and marginal farmers whose only source of income is their land, are forced to relocate to other towns, where they try to eke out a living doing odd jobs.

"Why is the government bothered only about the interests of the rich industrialists and businessmen? Of course, we don't have the resources they have but does that mean our interests are not important? Let the government take away whatever land I have. But, at least let it ensure that I have a small house to live in and a job or a business to make a living," says Mr B.S. Baidwan, general secretary, Kissan Hit Bachao Committee.

The committee is spearheading the fight against compulsory acquisition of farmers' land by the government. In fact, for the past 855 days, farmers of 71 villages that fall in Mohali have been staging a dharna at Sohana to make the government realise the folly of forcibly taking away their land.

The present Congress government as also the previous Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-BJP government stand accused of having done precious little to help these landless farmers start life afresh while going to all the way to help major companies fill their coffers.

So much so that the government has also junked the pro-farmer, land-pooling scheme, which was conceptualised when the late Beant Singh was the chief minister of Punjab.

The scheme provided for allotment of a piece of land for house and another piece of land for a shop or business establishment, both free of cost, in lieu of land the government acquired from the farmers. Many farmers benefited from the scheme.

Despite repeated pleas, the Punjab government has stonewalled all efforts to revert back to the land-pooling scheme.

In fact, one such proposal, pertaining to the government move to acquire 417 acres of land in Sector 81, Mohali, out which 200 acres would be used to set up the proposed Science City, is already pending with the government.

Explains D.P. Singh Baidwan, convener, Kissan Hit Bachao Committee, "What we have proposed is that we give 200 acres of land absolutely free of cost to the government in Sector 81 for the Science City. Of the remaining 217 acres, for each acre that a farmer gives to the government, we have asked the government to give a 1125-sq. yard residential plot and a 121-sq. yard commercial plot to the farmer. In this way, the government will be able to ensure development of the area and also save hundreds of crores of rupees.”

Experts feel the proposal has its merits. “First of all, it will end litigation against land acquisition and for enhancement of land compensation. Also, the farmers will no longer have to worry about his and his family’s future,” says Punjab and Haryana High Court lawyer and former Advocate-General, Haryana, Mohan Jain.

The Kissan Hit Bachao Committee is also planning to try and meet the Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, when he visits Mohali on September 27 to lay the foundation stone of the proposed Science City. They will tell him about how his own party’s government has trashed a pro-farmer policy prepared by a previous Congress government.

Incidentally, on August 14, 2004, following a meeting between the Chief Minister and representatives of the farmers, Capt Amarinder Singh had directed the department concerned to study the proposal.

Thereafter, then Chief Secretary Jai Singh Gill convened a meeting on August 20, 2004, where it was felt that “prima facie, the concept of land pooling and land exchange had merit”. A compact sub-committee headed by the Secretary, Local Government, was then constituted to “comprehensively examine the issue and make specific recommendations within 45 days”. Nobody knows what the committee’s findings and proposals were.

In a letter to then CPI (M) leader Harkrishan Singh Surjeet on August 20, 2004, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had written that he had “advised the officers of the state housing and urban development department that efforts should be made to ensure that none of the landowners lose their livelihood as a result of the proposed acquisition”.

He further wrote that he had also told the officers that “wherever possible, landowners may be provided commercial sites also to start some other occupation in case they are not left with any more agricultural land”. Farmers allege this has not happened. The government has already initiated the process of acquiring 30.73 acres of land in the villages of Sohana, Chilla and Lakhnaur in Mohali district for setting up a mega project, which it claims would be an industrial park.

However, villagers whose land has been earmarked for acquisition allege that the government has no intention of using their land for any public purpose. Instead, they claim, the land would be acquired and later handed on a platter to a private company for its housing project.

To be continued



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