M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Investigation — Govt as landgrabber-III
Landless, farmers have penury to hold on to
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Mohali, September 21
Amrik Singh had a half-acre plot in Sohana village in Mohali district. He used to grow vegetables and sell the same in nearby markets, earning just enough to take care of his family. In order to make both ends meet, he had even taken a loan from a moneylender.

In 2001, the Punjab government decided to acquire his only land along with other land for the expansion of the Mohali township. Initially hesitant to sell his land, Amrik Singh bowed to the government before which he was powerless. He received about Rs 4.5 lakh in lieu of his land.

The money soon vanished, with the moneylender taking a major share of it to settle the outstanding loan and interest. Soon thereafter, Amrik Singh was saddled with the burden of his brother’s family, too, after his brother died.

These days, Amrik Singh works as a manual labour, sometimes transporting goods from one place to another on a cycle rikshaw that he takes on rent. He doesn’t remember the last time he had a proper meal. His 17 year-old daughter, who, neighbours say, is good at studies, does not attend school any more as he can’t afford to pay the school fee.

But, he is a proud Jat. When work eludes him for days together, he refuses to resort to begging unlike many others.

“After I sold my land, I realised, I had been taken for a ride. Smooth-talking government officials told me the government would take care of my family and me. Nothing has happened. But for the five small children, who depend upon me for their survival, I would have committed suicide long back,” he confides.

In another part of Mohali, the same place which multinationals and big Indian enterprises are hard-selling as a dream destination to potential house buyers, lives Mrs Jasbir Kaur with her five children. Her husband and his elder brother died a few years ago in a road mishap.

With no source of income - her husband had been forced to sell his land in Sohana village to the government before his death - Jasbir Kaur works as maidservant in some houses in the village, earning less than Rs 1000 every month.

Two of her children attend school courtesy some neighours who pay the fees, while the remaining three don’t. Living in a crumbling one-room house, Jasbir’s biggest worry is not her children’s education but how to buy enough foodgrain so that they can survive.

“There is no male member in the family. What can I do? A couple of years ago, some government official came to our village. I requested him to get me a job, any job. He assured me of action, but nothing has been done,” she laments.

Amrik Singh and Jasbir Kaur are just two examples of what is now a common sight in villages across Punjab.

Farmers’ leaders recount tales of how former landowners, who used to lead a well-to-do life, are now reduced to penury.

“The state is for the welfare of the people. It commits an unpardonable offence when it forcibly acquires the land of farmers without making arrangements for alternative employment for them. The government needs to stop acting as a property agent,” says Bhupinder Sambar, a leader of farmers.

Experts express concern over the fact that compulsory acquisition of agricultural land for non-agriculture purposes would also sharply bring down agriculture produce.

Since its inception, the Capt Amarinder Singh government is reported to have granted land-use change permissions for thousands of acres of fertile land across the state.

Commenting on the Punjab government’s claim that by giving land to big private companies, it was ensuring job creation, Mr Sambar said the government was misleading the public. “What about the loss of revenue due to large number of concessions extended to mega projects and SEZs? Due to the concessions, SEZs would be able to produce goods at a much cheaper cost than the present industrial units. Wouldn’t this make running of such units unviable?” he asks.

Farmers say the acquisition policy is also heavily loaded against the interests of the farmers. “There are many instances where a private buyer paid over Rs 1 crore for an acre of land but the government acquired another piece of land in the same area for just a few lakh of rupees,” a farmer points out.

To be concluded



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