The Telegraph
Saturday , September 7 , 2013
 
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Cry for land justice holds up IIT work

Bihta, Sept. 6: An eerie silence has enveloped the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Patna, the bustle of construction coming to a grinding halt after a bunch of farmers started their hunger strike to demand “fair compensation” for the land they have parted with.

For 12 days, construction at the sprawling 535-acre campus in Bihta, 40km southwest of Patna, has been stalled with the farmers beginning their agitation to press their demand for “one project-one rate”.

The campus is to be ready by June 2014.

“Before August 26, construction work on the campus was going on in full swing with many labourers working through the day. The work came to a halt after farmers and landowners started their protest on August 26. Soon after, the labourers left. You can see so many parked tractors all along. The work has stopped,” said a Bihar police constable, one of the four men in uniform keeping guard outside the main gate of the construction site at Amraha village of Bihta.

Right opposite the main gate are the deserted quarters of the labourers.

“We heard that they were from Bengal and they had seen a similar situation there. Chale gaye sab (They have all left),” another security guard said.

In 2007-2008, the state government had acquired a total of 799 acres in Bihta for setting up of the Mega Industrial Area, which included the IIT campus that was allotted the biggest portion of the land.

“The payment of compensation started in 2009 and is still going on. The problem is that the amount given to the farmers — who number more than 3,000 — against their land varies. Some were given compensation at the rate of Rs 52,000 per cottah and others at Rs 1.69 lakh per cottah. The one project-one rate issue has been approved by the Bihar Land Acquisition Act, 1971, and we are demanding the same. The hunger strike-cum-protest will continue as long as the government doesn’t do us justice. Until then, no construction work will be allowed on any of the projects,” Guddu Kumar Singh, one of the protesting farmers, told The Telegraph today.

The hunger strike site, which lies at the northern gate of the IIT main campus, is swelling with each passing day now with leaders of the Opposition BJP and RJD patting the backs of farmers.

Vivek Thakur, the son of senior BJP leader C.P. Thakur and an MLC, promised, in his speech today, to stay and fight for the farmers’ rights.

“Leaders like C.P Thakur, Ashwini Choubey, Ram Kripal Yadav have visited us and expressed their solidarity. My land (52 cottahs) has been acquired as part of the Mega Industrial Area. The compensation for the same was paid in two parts — one in 2009 when I was paid at the rate of Rs 52,000 per cottah and then in 2013, when I was paid Rs 1.35 lakh per cottah. Twenty per cent of the total land cost is yet to be paid. Why is it that that one farmer got the compensation at a lower rate while another whose plot is located right next to it, got a different compensation altogether? For one land, I am getting different amounts as compensation,” Dhananjay Kumar, another landowner, told The Telegraph.

Asked about the reason behind the “sudden” protest, Guddu Kumar Singh added: “The state government has been assuring us that they will line up things when it comes to compensation time and again. Now we feel that they have been, and are, just fooling us,” he said.

Sources said the recent Land Acquisition Bill, which was passed by the Centre earlier this month, has had its effect on the farmers.

“The centre’s Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2012, which seeks to provide fair compensation to farmers — four times more than the market price in rural areas while ensuring that no land can be acquired forcibly, has acted like a tonic for the farmers here. The fault indeed is of the state government as it delayed the compensation payment to the farmers. Until now, none of the farmers whose land was acquired by Biada (Bihar State Industrial Area Development Authority) have received the full compensation. If the compensation process had been completed, this problem wouldn’t have risen. Now, with the ‘lucrative’ bill having been passed by the Centre, the farmers have got a boost,” a source in the government told The Telegraph.

The farmers agreed.

“The state government has delayed the compensation payment. The district administration has been saying that the equal compensation clause is not applicable as the land was acquired in different time frames since 2008. But then this is wrong as according to the CAG report, the acquisition of land (700 acres) was done by Biada in one go — between August 2009 and February 2010,” Amitrajeet, another land owner, told The Telegraph.

However, A.K Bhowmik, the director of IIT, Patna, is still hopeful of a solution.

“The campus is expected to start by June 2014. The construction work has been stalled for around 10 days now but we are hopeful. We have had talks with the state government and they have assured us that the problems will be sorted out soon and the construction of the IIT-Patna campus will begin shortly. Though no definite date has been given, we are sure that things will ease out. This is a prize project for the state and will give the people here a lot of opportunities,” Bhowmik told The Telegraph.