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Land right demand cloud on AMU project

Ahiran, July 11: Nearly 2,500 families in Murshidabad encroaching on government plots “for generations” have threatened to scupper an Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus coming up here if their demand for land rights is not met.

The families, who live on 18 acres spread over four villages in Ahiran and who also do farming, said the land was acquired for the Centre-controlled Farakka Barrage Authority (FBA) in 1964 but had been lying idle since then.

The 18 acres were a part of the 288 acres given to the state government by the Centre in 2010 to set up an AMU campus, a pet project of Pranab Mukherjee. Ahiran falls in Jangipur, the former Union finance minister’s parliamentary constituency.

After a survey in January, the AMU authorities tweaked the plan of the centre to keep the area with the encroachers out of its campus plan.

“When we went to survey the land, we found several houses were located on about 18 acres. So we redesigned our campus plan on the remaining 270 acres,” a varsity official said.

The AMU branch in Murshidabad now runs from a rented building in Mangaljone village, about 3km from Ahiran.

Mohammad Yasin, a former director of the AMU’s Murshidabad campus, said: “The state government should ensure that the campus comes up without any law-and-order problems.”

A district official said the FBA owned about 1,000 acres across four mouzas in Ahiran.

Narayan Das, one of the encroachers, said the entire 1,000 acres had been lying unused since acquisition. “The FBA did nothing with the land. We live here and cultivate the land. We had repeatedly requested the FBA to give us pattas (land rights) for the 18 acres that we live on. But they did nothing and instead, gave the land for the AMU campus.”

Das added: “We have launched a movement to protest this. If we don’t get land rights, we will not allow the AMU campus to come up.”

Another farmer said the families had been living on the land for generations and so should be allowed to continue “living peacefully”.

The farmers had prevented AMU-hired contractors to build the boundary wall in February.

District Congress chief and Behrampore MP Adhir Chowdhury accused the Trinamul-led government of “stopping work on the AMU campus”.

“The state government does not want the AMU campus to come up in Murshidabad. Pranab Mukherjee had taken the initiative to set up the campus. The state government and the chief minister do not want the Congress and Pranabda to take credit for doing something good for the minority community,” Chowdhury said.

The Murshidabad strongman threatened to “hit the streets” if there was delay in setting up the campus.

“The 14 Congress MLAs from the district will submit a deputation to the district magistrate on July 14, demanding that work start immediately. If nothing happens after that, the district Congress will launch an agitation.”

District Trinamul president Mohammad Ali tore into Chowdhury. “Since our leader Mamata Banerjee came to power, no project has left this state. The AMU campus will come up at Ahiran. Adhir Chowdhury is making allegations for the sake of opposing Trinamul.”

District magistrate Rajeev Kumar said the agitators’ demand was justified. “The villagers of Ahiran who have launched a movement against the AMU campus have a point. Their land was acquired in 1964 but the FBA did not nothing with it. Now the villagers are demanding land rights. We will consider their demand,” he said.

The Murshidabad chapter of the Social Democratic Party of India today called a 12-hour bandh in the district demanding that work on the new campus begin immediately. The bandh was partially successful in minority-dominated areas of the district.