Poles put up by NHSRCL divide land owned by farmers Sanjay and Shailesh Patel, at Mahij village in Kheda. (Avinash Nair)
A concrete pole on a vegetable farm belonging to Shankersinh Chauhan of Chhapra village in Kheda — one of the most fertile districts of Gujarat — announces the imminent land acquisition for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project. Chauhan (50) says, “I don’t want to part with my land. My son and I have been taking three crops every year for the past several decades and we earn over Rs 6 lakh annually.”
Farmers in this “Charotar belt” of the district say they are clueless about the path the land acquisition will take as neither officials of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) nor the state government have informed them. Gujarat government officials, on the other hand, claim that the farmers who will lose land will be awarded compensation “more than the existing market rates.”
“Nobody is asking for our opinion. We feel that interests of farmers are being sacrificed,” says Chauhan, adding, “We are not sure what the future holds. There are about 20-odd farmers in our village who will lose their land. Does a motley group like ours stand a chance against will of the government?” The Sunday Express visited several villages in the district and found that little had been done to allay fears of the farmers regarding the acquisition. Farmers complained of no information about the process and most of them said the forms they filled up were in English and they were wary about the contents.
At many places, farmers, especially those with smaller land holdings — were unwilling to part with their land as it would put them out of farming. Such farmers were found seeking government jobs. Some farmers were unwilling because the elevated corridor for the project would divide their farms into unequal parts, rendering one portion useless for farming. The unwillingness among farmers to give up land has caused concern among the Japanese officials helping in implementation of the project.
The state government has issued primary notifications for acquiring land in 165 pockets of Gujarat, which includes both urban and rural areas. While villagers in Chhapra have not seen this notification, about 30 km away, in Mahij village of the same district, a copy of the notification hangs by a thread at the panchayat office. “We have been asked to display this notice,” says Mehul Patel, the office clerk.
Letters from NHSRCL sent to Mahij panchayat about the acquisition process reveal that the first stakeholder consultation was conducted in all “tehsils” in December 2014. However, none of the farmers, The Sunday Express spoke to, had a clue about the meeting. Himanshu Patel, a farmer from Mahij, said he attended the 2nd Stakeholders Consultation at Nadiad on April 4. “There was chaos and police had to be called in. But we heard the officials saying that every farmer will get four times the jantri rate (a ready-reckoner of prices fixed by the state government). Despite the money being offered, I do not want to part with my fertile land. The government should offer us jobs as part of the compensation,” he says.
Bigger farmers, like Sanjay (50) and Shailesh Patel (55), who jointly own about 100 bighas in Mahij, say they are not averse to giving land for the project. “They have erected a pole in our farm. Now, our tubewell and the cattle shed lie on one side of this pole and our farm lies on the other. We have been told that they are going to construct a service road under the elevated bullet train section. So we are seeking is right of passage. We have no other objection. After all the project is for the nation,” says Sanjay.
Meanwhile, Gujarat government has said it will offer compensation “more than the prevailing market rates” and that the acquisition process will be conducted as per the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2016. “We will be either be offering 4.75 times the existing jantri prices or the average rate of sale of land that has happened within a 1.5 kilometer radius of the land that is being acquired, whichever is higher. At many places, this will be more than the market rate,” said Hareet Shukla, Secretary & Commissioner (Land Reforms), Revenue Department.