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Government, Industry and Farmland

Letters

Government, Industry and Farmland

F
orces of the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) brutally attacked residents of Bajhera Khurd in Dhaulana block of Ghaziabad district in UP over a period of two days, July 7-8, injuring many, including women, disabled and old people and vandalising/looting property worth lakhs of rupees. The apparent crime of the villagers, mostly middle income farmers was their insistence on better compensation for their land that is being acquired by the Mulayam Singh government to hand over to the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Energy Generation (REG).

REG has acquired over 2,100 acres of land and is aggressively pursuing the acquisition of 400 more acres in seven villages of Dhaulana, near Dadri to build “the world’s biggest gas-based power plant”. The 3,500 mw gas-based power generation project is to be set up using natural gas discovered by the company in the Krishna-Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh and estimated to cost over Rs 10,000 crore.

While the state-owned land was to be given to REG on a renewable lease for a period of 99 years at, reportedly, Rs 1.20 per bigha (equal to 27,000 sq ft), the cost of private land was to be borne by the company. The state government went about acquiring agricultural land under the Land Acquisition Act. Significantly, the state government discounted nearly 40 per cent of the land cost to REG as part of its industrial policy to attract greater investments. While a subsidy was being given to REG, the farmers whose land was being acquired by the state government were told that they would be paid Rs 150 per square yard (1 acre = 4,840 square yards).

The farmers demanded the market price, reportedly, Rs 500 per square yard and agitated against the low compensation package. After several months of protesting at the offices of the local administration in vain, the farmers began a hunger strike and dharna on the outskirts of Bajhera Khurd on November 25, 2005. In July 2006, eight months into the dharna, a few were forced to accept the meagre compensation extended by the government for fear of the threat held out by goons, police and local administration. The villagers “re-strategised”, decided “enough was enough” and pulled off the boundary fencing set up by REG around their lands and decided to plough their land. They sought support and found it from a few social and political formations: the Jan Morcha, CPI(ML) Liberation, Indian Justice Party, etc. On July 8, a panchayat of several villages was planned and the land was to be ploughed as a symbol of reclamation.

In the meanwhile REG filed a writ petition before the Allahabad High Court for protection of “their” project site on the evening of July 7. The UP government in the meantime had the PAC encircle the village. After a round of firing and lathi-charge that injured several protestors and a few arrests, the PAC retreated.

In the early hours of July 8, the PAC personnel moved into the dharna site. After gathering together the villagers, supposedly for holding talks, they started a brutal lathi-charge, without any provocation. Several vehicles belonging to the protestors were attacked and damaged, provisions for food including 70 tins of ghee/oil and several quintals of sugar and 80 mobile phones were looted. Thereafter, the PAC entered Bajhera Khurd village and proceeded to move from house to house, breaking doors and walls of the houses and assaulting their inmates. As most men were already at the dharna site, it was mostly the women, children, the old, the ill and the physically challenged were left in the village. While no one was spared in the assault that

(Continued on p 3544)

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Economic and Political Weekly August 12, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 3446)

followed, the list of those severely injured indicates the desire to terrorise. Mahima Rana, a deaf-mute widow with several disabilities, was repeatedly hit on her hips and back with rifles. Her 80-year-old hearingimpaired mother-in-law was hit on the forehead with a rifle butt. Meena Devi, a 42-year-old woman, was beaten inside her house leading to severe injuries because of prodding with rifle butts in the chest, legs, arms and back. Reena was hit till she bled, as she held on to her 10-day-old baby. Kamlesh Sharma’s ear lobes were ripped as the PAC men snatched her earrings.

Mahender Giri, a physically challenged person, was dragged out from his house by 10 police personnel and assaulted. Shivdayal Singh, 85 years of age, with hearing difficulty and recovering from an operation was brutally thrashed on his hips and left with blunt injuries on his back and abdomen.

The PAC men also snatched earrings and chains worn by scores of women, raided jewellery and cash boxes, hit children playing inside the house against the pleading of their mothers and destroyed household provisions, besides damaging all visible valuables like televisions, motorcycles, tractors and cars.

If this purports to be the model for the setting up of special economic and manufacturing zones, situated only 40 kilometres from the capital of the country, it has ominous implications for those living in the sites earmarked for the planned 150 special economic and manufacturing zones. Democratic opinion in the country must speak out against the state playing muscle man of the corporations. The guilty must be charged and punished and the land deal revoked.

SATYA SIVARAMAN, RAVINDRA GARIA,

KAPIL SHARMA, RADHIKA MENON,

AZIM SHERWANI

Delhi

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