| Mathura Prasad Mahto at a news meet in Ranchi on Sunday. (Hardeep Singh)
Ranchi, July 29: Nagri villagers today reiterated they would not part with “agricultural land” for permanent campuses of three premier educational institutes, prodding the administration to make do with government land at nearby Sukurhutu instead, thus posing a stance that may compel the state to consider holding out the carrot of more compensation.
Representatives of 35 villages, all within 10km of Nagri, had told district officials on Thursday they were not anti-development and not against establishment of the institutes in their area so long as they came up on barren land.
Today’s meeting with nearly 70 villagers left the Mathura Prasad Mahto-led committee, which is mediating in the land acquisition controversy, with a stalemate two days before it has to file a report to the state government.
The government, too, has to submit a status report before Jharkhand High Court on July 31 itself.
During the meeting that lasted one-and-a-half-hours, villagers asked the panel to advise the government to return the “agricultural land” which had been acquired in the 1950s. They also asked the committee to urge the government to set up campuses of National University for Study and Research in Law, IIM and Indian Institute of Information Technology in Sukurhutu, a village near Nagri, where 1,900 acres of gair majrua land are available.
“We made our stand clear to the committee today, saying that we will not give our land as we believe that the acquisition process for it in Nagri is incomplete. We said that the three educational institutes should immediately come up in Sukurhutu,” said Samnur Mansoori, a core committee member of the Jameen Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.
A member of the state panel, requesting anonymity, said they had not yet applied their minds over recommendations to be made to the government.
“The villagers are not ready to negotiate and want their plots returned. But we cannot make such a recommendation (return of land) as it is not within the ambit of law,” he said. “Now, we will sit together and brainstorm over making recommendations in tune with law,” he added.
Today’s meeting was the second between the five-member government committee comprising revenue and land reforms minister Mahto, the department secretary, N.N. Pandey, finance secretary Sukhdev Singh, South Chotanagpur commissioner Surendra Singh and Ranchi deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey and the villagers.
While the villagers had skipped a meeting called on July 15 in Sri Krishna Institute for Public Administration, a large number turned up the next day at Birsa Agriculture University in Kanke.
Today, villagers including social activists Dayamani Barla, Prabhakar Tirkey and Ratan Tirkey took part in the meeting at the district collectorate.
Reacting to Jharkhand High Court’s recent observation that a few individuals with “vested interests” who did not want the state’s growth and prosperity were causing the chaos in Nagri, the participants told the committee that the statement infringed on their “right to freedom of expression”.
Since the clash between police and villagers on July 4 on the one hand and the high court’s order to ensure “rule of law” on the other, the government has been trying to find a solution on the Nagri land row without any real success.
JMM supremo Shibu Soren’s visit to Nagri, during which he exhorted the villagers to “go, plough land”, also complicated the issue.
When asked, Mahto declined to reveal what the committee would suggest to the state government, but added his report would give due importance to the “emotions” of the villagers.
“We have heard the villagers and noted down their arguments. We will be incorporating their feelings in the committee’s final report,” Mahto said.
Mansoori, a resident of Sukurhutu who owns 1.28 acres in the disputed Nagri site, admitted conflicts over leadership of the Jameen Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, with one section of villagers following the likes of Dayamani Barla and Prabhakar Tirkey and the other him.
“However, as far as the Nagri issue is concerned, we are fighting as a united force,” he added.