A girl harvests paddy on a plot of land earmarked for a proposed IIIT campus in Nagri on Wednesday. (Prashant Mitra)
Heavy security notwithstanding, 100-odd Nagri villagers on Wednesday harvested paddy on disputed acres where the government proposes a campus for the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT).
Armed with sickles and other agricultural tools, men and women reapers swamped the golden fields at 7am in what can be seen as a tacit way of staking their claim on the controversial land all over again.
“This is our land. We ploughed it and it’s time to reap the harvest. We will continue doing so in the future,” 40-something local resident Shanti Toppo minced no words.
Sources said though harvesting of paddy began on Tuesday, the army of villagers trooped to the 76-acre land earmarked for the IT cradle in anticipation of the chief minister’s visit in the morning.
Arjun Munda was expected to visit Nagri after inaugurating the revamped Ranchi-Patratu Road. He, however, restricted his itinerary till Birsa Agriculture University (BAU) in Kanke, a kilometre away from the disputed site.
Senior functionary of Nagri Bachao Jan Sangarsh Samiti Arun Pradhan said harvesting would continue for the next few days. “It is a large area and it is not possible to harvest the entire paddy in one day,” he added.
Pradhan claimed that the government had first offered to collect the crop on their behalf. “But, we decided otherwise. If the government is allowed to harvest, it will mean the land has been acquired. These fertile acres belong to villagers of Nagri. They who sow crops, alone have the right to reap,” he maintained.
The district administration too seemed to have softened stance. Although the circle officer assisted by Kanke police first tried to prevent villagers from harvesting paddy, later they gave in.
Asked why, deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey said they wished to keep tension at bay. “First, we had planned to harvest paddy and give it to villagers. But later, we allowed them to reap the crop on humanitarian ground, but under administrative vigil,” he insisted.
“Besides, the paddy was ripe. Not harvesting it now would have damaged the crop,” Choubey said. He, however, added that the “business” of villagers would end with harvesting. “They will not be allowed into the fields after that.”
Sources said that though the in-charge of Kanke police station was made the nodal officer, no villager sought permission before harvesting paddy on Wednesday in a clear indication that the stalemate will continue.
The government has proposed campuses of three premier cradles — the IIIT, the IIM and NUSRL — on around 218 riyati acres.
Only work for the law varsity campus is underway at present, while fed-up over the impasse the IIM has reportedly requested the government for a separate campus site.
There has been no development on the IIIT front either. Significantly, the government has informed Jharkhand High Court that it has shelved the plan for IIIT after a committee headed by land reforms and revenue minister Mathura Mahto found loopholes in acquisition of the 76 acres.