People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

August 29, 2010




We Won’t Tolerate Loot of Our Land


Rajendra Sharma on Return from Tappal


“THIS amounts to a loot of the peasants’ land.” The sentence, uttered by the CPI(M)’s Aligarh district secretary Idris, aptly expresses what has of late been happening in several districts of Western Uttar Pradesh, including NOIDA, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra. This in fact sums up the bitter experience of tens of thousands of peasants in these districts, as a team of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), led by its president S Ramachandran Pillai, discovered during a daylong visit to the affected villages in Tappal block of Aligarh district on August 22.


The emotionally charged nature of this sentence was quite obvious when we first heard it. We were then in Ajab Singh’s house in Saraul village, from where the AIKS team started its visit. An ambience of grief permeated the house of this ordinary peasant. Dharmendra Singh (26), a young boy of the family, had died in police firing on August 14 evening. Just like the other days, a group of village boys were riding a tractor-trolley to reach the nearby Jirakpur where a peaceful protest dharna (squatting) of the affected peasants was going on since July 17. However, just when they were close to the Nagla bridge, the police suddenly opened fire. Ajab Singh says: “My lad got two bullets in his head. He died on the spot.” Other boys just lay down. Mercifully, the thick iron sheet of the trolley saved their life.        


Kishanpal, elder brother of the deceased, controlled his emotions to narrate the story. He said two bighas of Dharmendra’s land had already been taken for the highway project and now more land adjoining the proposed highway, up to 50 metres distance from it, was being acquisitioned for the proposed Interway project, the Hitech City and the Model City. The peasants had somehow reconciled to the inadequate compensations they were given in the first round of acquisition. But now they were peacefully agitating for their demand that they too must be given the rate of Rs 885 per square metre, which was given to the peasants in NOIDA. Peasants used to come to the dharna’s venue everyday to squat there and there was absolutely no breach of law. Yet, the police resorted to firing, that too without issuing any warning. A number of peasants were seriously injured and 16 of them had to be hospitalised. Kishanpal now bursts out in anger: “The (UP) government is perpetrating atrocities in the whole state.”


The CPI(M)’s Idris has been visiting the whole area during the agitation. He posed a question which remains unanswered: Why there are differences in the compensations for the lands taken over for one and the same project? Kishanpal suddenly remembers something and blurts out: “There is discrimination in compensation for the deaths as well. Here it is Rs 10 lakh for one death; there in NOIDA, it is Rs 25 lakh.” This is specifically pinching to the peasants of the area, as this part of Aligarh district adjoins Gautam Buddha Nagar, the district which has NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority) as its headquarters. This is the height of arbitrariness, loot, brutal use of force and violence.


In the same Saraul village, the AIKS delegation went to the house of Munesh, another young man who was injured in firing. We also saw the tractor which still bears the marks of police firing. While Munesh was driving the tractor on the fateful day, Dharmendra was in the front part of it. Munesh received five bullets in one thigh; four of them remained inside while one pierced the flesh to come out. He was under treatment in Trauma Centre of the All India Medical Science Institute in Delhi for several days. He told us that police presence in the whole area did increase after they arrested Rambabu Kataria, leader of the agitating peasants, but the dharna was still continuing peacefully.


Munesh, who has played kabaddi at the state level, told that nobody tried to stop us anywhere, nor did the police issue any warning. “The first bullet hit my leg; the next one went into Dharmendra’s head. But I did not stop the tractor. I kept driving it and stopped it only after reaching the dharna venue.” Will Munesh be able to play kabaddi again? His question is: Why are we not given for our land the rate at which the JP Group is getting the land?


AIKS state president D P Singh told us about the agitation going on in Tappal block and also about the agitation that was already going on regarding the Yamuna Expressway. Land had earlier been acquired for this Expressway in five villages of the block; 178 hectares of land were acquired for the proposed highway. Besides, 49 hectares were acquired for the Interway that would act as a link to the highway. Land acquisition for these projects has already been completed; now the process is on to acquire 488 hectares for the Hitech City. Out of this, the issue of 201 hectares has already been settled; struggle is now on for the remaining 287 hectares.    


D P Singh further told that the AIKS had been agitating against the acquisition of peasants’ lands for the highway project. In this process, the organisation established contacts in the whole area affected by the Yamuna Expressway project. As the AIKS has strong presence in Bulandshahar etc, the JP Group concentrated its land acquisition activity in Aligarh and NOIDA. The agitation in Tappal acquired momentum when people came to know about the higher rates being paid in the adjacent NOIDA. This was how the indefinite dharna on the bridge connecting Jirakpur and Kansera villages started. During the agitation, people demolished the fence of the already acquired land to indicate that they were eager to get their land back. As the next step, they had called for fence demolition in many more villages on August 15.


But the Mayawati government’s police unleashed its repression on August 14 evening and arrested Rambabu Kataria. However, the agitating peasants refused to be cowed down and their number swelled to thousands in the same night, demanding Kataria’s release. However, when Kataria came back and announced that a settlement for Rs 570 per square metre had been reached, the peasants rejected the offer. Since then, a broadbased all-party Kisan Struggle Committee, led by Manvir Singh Tevatia, has been conducting the agitation.


On August 22, AIKS leaders went to the dharna venue to express solidarity with the agitation. S Ramachandran Pillai assured them of support from 23 million AIKS members, adding that the AIKS cadres would go to villages to mobilise opinion in favour of the agitating peasants, and would join any action the Struggle Committee decides to undertake. Condemning the government for its repressive measures, Pillai described the peasant demands as perfectly legitimate, adding that peasants anywhere want only one thing --- that they must be allowed to live peacefully. Cultivating his land is a peasant’s birthright and no power on the earth has a right to deprive him of it.        


On behalf of the fighting peasantry of Rajasthan, AIKS vice president and senior Rajasthan MLA, Amra Ram, paid homage to the martyrs of Tappal. He said the UP government was hell-bent on ruining the peasants to benefit some big companies. He said the peasants of Western UP had lit the torchlight of struggle for the sake of India’s 700 million peasants who all would support this struggle. He concluded with the assertion that the peasant would win and the government would bite dust.


State AIKS secretary Dina Nath Singh drew attention to projects like the Yamuna Expressway, Ganga Expressway, etc, to stress that peasants are being deprived of their lands for the things with which they are not even remotely connected. From NOIDA to Ballia, the government is out to construct highways that would be debarred for the peasants’ tractors or carts. He informed that the AIKS had decided to organise protest actions throughout Uttar Pradesh on August 26.


AIKS joint secretary N K Shukla said the developing situation threatens to end cultivation in one-third part of UP. He also reminded how big companies are eyeing the three-crop plots of our peasants. He stressed the need of enacting a new land acquisition act in place of the archaic and anti-peasant act of 1894. .


Earlier, Manvir Singh Tevatia had talked of the decision to organise a UP bandh on the need of a new law. August 25 was the date subsequently fixed for it.


AIKS state leaders like Mukut Singh and Karmapal Singh, Digambar Singh from Mathura and numerous AIKS activists from Aligarh and nearby districts participated in this meeting.


On the spot, I met Yaseen whose 14 years old nephew, Rafeeq, is missing since the August 14 firing. He belongs to Kansera village. It was later known that he was admitted to Malkhan Singh Hospital of Aligarh and the doctors there told that Rafeeq had died. But they gave the family neither his body nor his belongings. In government record, Rafeeq is not even missing. He is simply non-existent. If the BSP government could claim that no death had taken place in police firing, how it could not accept that Rafeeq was missing!


As for Mohit of Kripalpur village, his father, Shripal Singh, a poor dalit, has lost all his 4.5 bighas of land to these projects. Earlier, he was a peasant cum agricultural worker; now he is an agricultural worker pure and simple. Mohit was going towards the dharna venue when a police bullet took his life. The “pro-dalit” government of UP has not even contacted this family. Mohit’s old grandmother has just one refrain: I want nothing but my child back.


Peasants of Tappal have the same request: We want nothing but our land back.


On our way back, we saw green fields for miles together. But the question is: where the country would get its food from, if the powers-that-are continue to recklessly destroy the Ganga-Yamuna valley? The peasant alone is not suffering; we all are set to suffer.