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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 20, May 9, 2015

Report from Ajmer District: Struggle of Kishangarh Farmers Exposes Glaring Injustice in Land Acquisition

Saturday 9 May 2015, by Bharat Dogra

So many senior politicians have been saying time and again that as far as possible efforts will be made to avoide acquiring fertile and irrigated farmland. Even the Prime Minister has said that fertile and irrigated farmland should be acquired only as a last resort. Several political leaders have also said that land acquisition will be done honestly and with transparency, ensuring justice to farmers and providing enough opportunity to them to assert their demands.

However, all these have been exposed in the course of highly unjust and secretive land acquisition processes in the Kishangarh tehsil of Ajmer district. National-level attention was drawn to this injustice and its simmering discontents when a farmer Roop Singh (who is also a policemen) threatened to jump from rooftop on April 30 to protest against the many-sided injustices in land acquisition. But after standing in scorching heat hungry and thirsty he fell down into a water tank and was rushed to hospital. Subsequently the PUCL and several other organisations have also focused attention on the many-sided injustices taking place here.

This writer visited Rathoran Ki Dhani village on May 2 to meet farmers and representatives of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (Farmers’ Struggle Committee) which has organised a dharna (sit-in protest) since early March 2014. These farmers drew attention to the following injustices and irregularities.

• Instead of informing panchayats, gram sabhas and farmers properly at the right time in details and with clarity about the land acquisition, the administration merely placed notices in those newspapers which have no readership in the area. Farmers had to search for many days and spend Rs 400 to get a copy of remote Urdu and Sindhi newspapers where this notice had been published. They could see the notice much later after the time for filing objections had passed.

• The land being acquired is two-crop, irrigated fertile land which needs to be protected in this dry area for food security. Due to water collection work in the upper area, there was not only a canal but also water-recharge in the wells contributing to availability of water and moisture for farming and pastures. Hence good rabi and kharif crops, vegetables as well as a lot of animal husbandry and dairying work provided sustainable livelihoods to villagers which could have continued for several generations. Instead of saving this land from acquisition, and acquiring only wasteland, the authorities gave attention to only saving the land of a few influential rich persons. In the process more farmland of the villagers came under the net of land acquisition. Old maps show that much of the farmland could’ve been saved.

• This fertile irrigated land is being acquired not for any project of great national importance but only for an airport whose usefulness in a rural belt is dubious at best. The nearby areas of importance for tourism and pilgrimage are already very well served by transport and there is an airport as well in Jaipur. Farmers suspect a few very rich persons of the area to be the main force behind this project.

• The farmers are being paid compensation for land and houses which is much less than the original promises and their needs. The compensation for houses is much less compared to the need for building new houses. The livelihood needs of the landless farm workers and sharecroppers have been ignored. Very poor quality of land with ditches is being given for resettlement. Land is not adequate to continue to keep animal husbandry activities going. Some eligible adults have not been given land as they’re not married. In some cases the same land has been given to more then one claimant.

While some of these complaints can be sorted out, what emerges from the details of this struggle is that land acquisition has been highly unjust and opaque. Instead of transparency, what we see are conspirational tactics to deny adequate prior knowledge to farmers.

However, it is still not too late to undo some of the glaring injustices and the government should take higher-level actions for justice as some of the local officials have been taking actions which are clearly biased against the interests of farmers and villagers.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.