Farmer dead in Mansa land acquisition stir
Kot Dunna (Mansa-Barnala border), August 2
The police action came when over 1,000 farmers wanted to move towards Gobindpura village in Mansa district to reclaim the land acquired for the power project. Seventeen unions of farmers from Faridkot, Ferozepur, Moga, Ludhiana, Patiala, Bathinda and Mansa participated in the protest. Nearly 1,000 farmers gathered at the Kot Dunna village gurdwara and resolved to reach Gobindpura village, around 30 km away.
The farmers were, however, restrained by the police near Kot Dunna. Barnala Superintendent of Police Gurpreet Singh Tur said one farmer died and 10 farmers and five policemen were injured in the lathi charge and the clash that broke out after the protesters tried to break the police cordon in their bid to march to the village. Buta Singh, state president of the BKU (Dakaunda), one of the leading farmers’ organisations against the acquisition, said Surjit Singh, a farmer from Hamidi village in Barnala district sustained severe injuries during the lathi charge and his body was later found in a field.
“We offered arrest but the police refused to listen and rained lathis on farmers sitting in the vehicles. Even the elderly were not spared. Many farmers managed to flee and the 15 injured have been arrested by the police,” Buta said. Nearly 50 of the 70 vehicles of farmers’ unions were completely damaged during the lathi charge.
“When farmers were dragging the injured Surjit to nearby fields to save him from further blows, he was alive. He was cursing the police authorities for raining lathis on the protesters,” said the farmer leader.
The police claimed that the body of the farmer was found 2 km away from the trouble spot. There was no visible injury on his body and the exact cause of death would be known after the post mortem. Speaking of police high-handedness, Buta alleged that policemen also damaged three or four vehicles of people living in nearby houses.
The situation became tense after the death of the farmer and more police force was deployed to hunt the farmer leaders. Police officials were looking out for protesters in fields till late evening. Heavy police force was deployed in Daska, Bhikhi, Baretta and all the other roads leading to Gobindpura village.
Some farmers managed to uproot pillars installed at the project site. While being detained, farmers raised slogans against the Punjab Government and the Mansa police. Agitating farmers said 882 acres were to be acquired for setting up the thermal power plant. This included 799 acres in Gobindpura village, 83 acres in Jalvehra, Sirsi Wala and Baretta villages.
Gurmail Singh Moni, a farmer in Gobindpura, said the Punjab Government had awarded compensation of around Rs 200 crore for 726 acres, while owners of 166 acres have refused to sell land on the present rates fixed by the government at Rs 23.77 lakh per acre.
“Most of the 726 acres sold to the government belonged to farmers who had smaller land holdings. These farmers had an acre or even less and land acquisition was actually a good way for them to sell off their ‘waste land’. However, farmers who were refusing to hand over their fields have larger and fertile land holdings,” Moni said.
Agitating farmers alleged that land sold to the government has been at a lower cost than the new fields that they have bought. For instance, farmer Tarsem Singh said he sold land to government at Rs 23.77 lakh per acre. “I cannot stop farming. It is my livelihood. Hence I tried to buy land in Ratta village, which I got at Rs 25.40 lakh per acre. In a way, I not only ended up having a smaller holding but also had to pay from my own pocket to continue growing food,” he added.
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