(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 20 , 2008
TAJ EXPRESS HIGHWAY, UP
First Phase of Fight for Compensation Concludes
D P Singh
THE first phase of the fight for compensation for the peasants' land acquired for the Taj Express Highway has concluded. This highway, originally scheduled to run from NOIDA to Agra in Uttar Pradesh, has now been rechristened as Yamuna Express Highway and, moreover, extended up to Gorakhpur.
It were the CPI(M) and the All India Kisan Sabha that had forcefully raised the question of compensation in NOIDA (Gautam Buddha Nagar). Kisan Mahapanchayats were organised in Mirzapur and Phalaida villages on April 8 and May 23 respectively. Wall writing was done in the entire area and tens of thousands of leaflets were distributed. The peasants threw away the buntings put up in connection with the survey work by the JP Group, the highway construction company. The police foisted false cases against 150 of the peasants.
The JP Group then changed its tactic and started the construction work from Khandauli (Agra), Baldev Mahavan Raya Maant, Wajna area (Mathura) and Tappal, Jattari area (Aligarh), where the Kisan Sabha is comparatively weak. At the same time, the bourgeois political parties and Kisan organisations like the Bharatiya Kisan Union began to mislead the peasants. Secondly, the JP Group formed a team of managers to directly talk to the peasants and persuade them to surrender their lands. Thirdly, the district magistrates, SDMs, tehsildars and even the patwaris were heavily bribed in a planned way; some of the block pramukhs, MLAs and MPs were also bribed. All these people then began the propaganda that the whole area would as if turn into a paradise once the highway was complete. Fourthly, the company sent a big force of its touts to all the concerned districts; these people came to the area in costly cars and began to allure the villagers with wine and other things. The aim was to make the peasants give up their lands at cheap rates.
As a part of all these manoeuvres and conspiracies, it was then announced that the peasants of Khandauli village had agreed to give up their lands at Rs 400 per square metre. But the peasants were given compensation vouchers only instead of cheques or cash, and they were told hat hey would be paid at whatever rate would be decided for he entire highway.
Similarly, compensation was announced at Rs 350 per square metre in Mathura district and at Rs 350 per square yard in Khair tehsil of Aligarh district. But only seven persons were given compensation vouchers here, and all of them were dalit people with one to three bighas of patta lands. These cases were then utilised for a media campaign, followed by installation of JCB machines in the fields of even those villagers who had not agreed to give their lands. Forcible acquisition of land was started in Kripalpur, Jikarpur, Simrothi and some other villages.
In Aligarh, led by the CPI(M)'s district secretary Mohd Idris, peasants --- the aged, children, women--- squatted in front of the JCB machines and fought the company's employees. Next day, an attempt was made to run the JCBs with the help of the police and PAC but the peasants foiled the move. Finally, the administration had to beat the retreat.
The West Zone committees of the CPI(M) and Kisan Sabha now started an agitation in NOIDA, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra. Thousands of peasants attended a huge rally held at Wajna (Mathura) on June 7.
At Tappal town in Aligarh district, there took place a huge panchayat of peasants coming from all the 11 concerned villages on June 9. The gathering took place despite the fact that the SDM had been camping in the town with a big police force since June 8, in a move to prevent the event. On the very day of the panchayat, the SDM also announced that compensation money would be distributed and JCB machines would be run in the fields. He even threatened the CPI(M) district secretary with dire consequences. On the other hand, the district magistrate tried to persuade the Congress MP, Bijendra Singh, not to attend the panchayat, but he felt compelled to attend it in view of the heavy peasant presence there.
More than 200 peasants attended the panchayat held in village Nandau on June 13, despite heavy rain. Another successful panchayat took place in village Aangai the next day.
June 16 witnessed militant demonstrations on the district magistrate offices in all the four districts --- NOIDA (Gautam Buddha Nagar), Aligarh, Mathura and Agra.
At NOIDA, more than 500 peasants took part in the demonstration that took place despite the heavy rain continuing since 5 am on the day. This, and the dharna following it, continued till 4 pm.
At Aligarh, the Kisan Sabha organised its biggest demonstration so far.
Hundreds of agitated peasants blocked the court premises in Agra for over one hour. The district has been much affected by the agitation.
Peasants in all these districts submitted to the concerned district magistrates memoranda to be forwarded to the chief minister. The main demands were that land compensation to the peasants must be made at the market rate, a peasant's land must not be acquired without his express agreement, one person from every affected family must get permanent employment, and that the affected workers must also get compensation and employment. The memoranda also demanded that 15 percent of a peasant's land must be returned to him as a developed plot, the highway must have a toll tax free lane for the peasants and common people, there must be over-bridges and underpasses at the important sites, compensation for the tubewells etc must be given at the new rate, and that all the false cases foisted against the peasants must be withdrawn.
The very first phase of the agitation made the J P Group, the state government and some f the organisations uneasy. In no time were the troops of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) deployed for protection of the J P construction camps along the highway in Mathura, Agra and Aligarh districts. On the other hand, the CPI(M)'s zonal committee has chalked out a plan for the second phase of the agitation. It has been decided that any attempt to acquire land would be resisted at the level of the concerned fields. The party is also holding talks with other Left, secular and democratic parties in order to make the agitation more broad-based.