Gaon Connection tracks the story which has been developing since 2002 and ended violently in 2019 with clashes between the protesting farmers and the police. But what's the real story?
Unnao, Uttar Pradesh
“In 2005, when I went to purchase fertilizers from the government shop, I was told that my land isn’t registered under my name. When I looked for the land records, I came to know that ownership of my land now belongs to the UPSIDA (Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Authority). I shared this with the other farmers who checked their land records too and similarly came to know that their land also had been allocated to the UPSIDA. Don’t you think it is a fraud?” asked a visibly angry 44-year-old farmer Ramu Rawat.
A resident of Unnao’s Muralipur village, Rajiv is upset with the UPSIDA as he is one among those two thousand farmers whose land has been taken over by the UPSIDA to make way for latter’s ambitious project ‘Trans Ganga City’.
In the year 2002-03, for the Trans Ganga City Project, 1,152-acre land belonging to Kanhwapur, Shankarpur Sarai and Manbhauna gram panchayats falling under the Gangaghat police station in Unnao was taken over by the government. At that time, the state had Mulayam Singh’s government and so the area was taken over under the Special Economic Zone (SEZ). After about 17 years, when on November 16, 2019, the UPSIDA approached the region to claim its possession, there occurred a huge clash between the farmers and police. Rural Connection narrates the 17-year-long matter from its beginning to end
Beginning of the farmers’ protest
“When the acquisition had started in 2002-03, we weren’t served any notice. It was only when we looked into the records, did we come to know in 2005 that our land wasn’t ours anymore. We tried talking to the officials on the matter, but they refused to listen to us and sent us running from pillar to post. So, in 2005, we villagers sat on a protest at Shankerpur Intersection,” said Ramu.
Valmiki Yadav, a 70-year-old farmer said: “A long battle was fought. We sat on a protest for more than one-and-a-half years from 2005. People used to tend their fields after attending the protest at the Shankerpur Intersection. Only then the officials got up from their slumber and formed an agreement in 2007. They agreed to give us Rs 5,51,000 for each bigha of land.”
Reporter: You got those Rs 5, 51,000, right?
“Says who? Didn’t we tell you it was merely an agreement? No money was given,” said Yadav. Kuldeep Yadav, 24, a farmer sitting next to him, said, “Baba, do tell them about commissioner’s orders.”
Narrating the incident Yadav said: “Following the agreement, in 2008, there came an order from the commissioner’s office. The order stated that it had been observed that the land had been handed over to the UPSIDA without following the required acquisition process. Why and on what basis was this done? Who is responsible for this? Information regarding this must be produced. Also, it was ordered that the farmers’ land should be put back in their names and to be confirmed to the commissioner over the phone or fax. We do not know what happened to that order.”
Ramu added, “What happened of the order, we don’t know, however, we can tell you with certainty that we did not get the promised sum and our land is now acquired by the UPSIDA. So, we continued protesting. Four years had already passed since the agreement of 2007 before they actually began giving out the agreed amount. The prolonged delay in the payment irked the farmers who believed it to be unjustified in absence of any arrear or interest towards the late release. Even then, not all but, I think, only 70 per cent of the farmers could get their payments.”
Reporter: So, you did get your money? What happened next?
48-year-old Ramesh Kushwaha answered in a loud voice: “Then one Ajay Anmol from Etah district appeared in the picture! Farmers were already upset when he came up and told that he’d be able to provide us a good rate for our land as he is quite close to the officials. He made tall promises and told us that our land was worth in gold and that we all shall wear chains of gold around our necks and drive fancy cars.”
Hearing this, 55-year-old Rajkumar Lodhi, who was sitting nearby guffawed and said: “He used to tell me that an orchestra from Mumbai would come to perform at my son’s wedding and that I’d be able to gift my daughter-in-law so much gold that she’d be the envy of the entire village.”
Kushawaha added: “So, in 2012, Ajay Anmol came and won over our trust with his sweet talks. So much was the trust in him that, within a year, we formed a committee of 30 farmers with Ajay Anmol as our leader under the supervision of the sub-divisional magistrate 2013. So, the committee of 31 people was formed of which I too was a member.”
“In January 2014, Ajay Anmol visited the head office of the UPSIDA in Kanpur with other committee members. There, he made us sit outside and met up with the officials alone. He came out after the meeting and informed, “Sahib had to go out somewhere so he has left. I have done the negotiations as per which you people shall get four times Rs 7 lakh for a bigha. Shall I sign on this agreement for you?’ We trusted him implicitly so we all gave him a go ahead and he signed the agreement on behalf of us,” said Ramesh.
“Within the same year in 2014, farmers began receiving Rs 7 lakh per bigha in their bank accounts. Jubilant, farmers pooled in money to buy Ajay Anmol a top model Scorpio as a token of gratitude.”
Reporter: That’s great. You finally got your land’s fair price.
Ramesh answered irritably: “No, it was not great. In reality, Ajay had us tangled in his wordplay. As per the agreement which he had signed, we were to get Rs 7 lakh in four stages or installments whereas he told that we’d get four times Rs 7 lakh or Rs 28 lakh. But of course, we realized it much later. It was agreed in 2011 that 16% for every bigha will be provided to us in the Trans Ganga City which was later reduced to 6%. So, the Rs 7 lakh per bigha, which we received were given to us in place of our stake.”
Yadav added: “Whatever may be the agreement if we were to get Rs 7 lakh in four installments, we should only have received Rs 1.75 lakh as the first installment. But we actually began receiving Rs 7 lakh so we had hoped that we would soon receive Rs 21 lakh more per bigha and so remained happily ignorant.”
Reporter: So, what happened then? And how much did you get so far?
Yadav replied, “In 2011, we got Rs 5,51,000 per bigha and further in 2014, Rs 7 lakh per bigha. In total, we received Rs 12,51,000 per bigha and Rs 50,000 towards rehabilitation.”
He added: “After disbursing Rs 7 lakh per bigha in 2014, when in 2015, the UPSIDA official expressed their demand to build a boundary wall around their acquired land, we resumed our protests once again as we were expecting our remaining payment of Rs 21 lakh per bigha.”
“Meanwhile, Ajay used to take someone or the other in his car to the bank in regular intervals and withdraw around a lakh from the person’s account. He used to tell them, ‘You got this money due to my efforts and you shall receive more. I have to give the money to the officials so give me money failing which you shall not receive any more money.’” said Yadav
Before he could finish, Rajkumar said: “He drove me to Unnao and took Rs 1 lakh from me saying that the officials demand it. If I won’t comply, we would not get more money.” “You’d find many more such people in the village,” added Yadav. When an attempt was made to contact Anmol on the mobile number furnished by the farmers, it was reported to be switched off.
“Meanwhile, the movement was resumed in 2015 and continued till November 16, 2019. On November 16, our crops were trampled upon by the tractors. Our protests were met with police lathi-charge. During the period of our protests, we had tried to meet up with the officials several times but to no avail. Ajay Anmol disappeared the way he had appeared. Such is the plight of farmers who now stand all alone,” Yadav concluded plaintively.
When we talked to officials in the UPSIDA office in Trans Ganga City, wishing to remain anonymous, they informed, “The villagers used to protest here beneath this mango tree. Sometimes they even used to enter the office hurling abuses at us. We used to tell them that we are mere workers executing our orders and that they need to talk to the officers. Sometimes, they even used to hurl bricks at the office. We had to put up with such hostility for a long time.”
BD Yadav, senior manager, Trans Ganga City, informed: “We have already given out the entire compensation due to the farmers. No pending amount remains to be paid towards the farmers. Only the developed plots need to be given to them which would be done once the work in that area is accomplished. So far as the land acquisition notification or the information of 2002-03 is concerned, the entire process was carried out at the time. Now the entire land belongs to the UPSIDA.”
Meanwhile, two FIRs were lodged in the matter of clash between the police and the farmers on November 16, 2019. One FIR was lodged by the police whereas the second was in the name of BD Yadav, Senior Manager, Trans Ganga City. The police FIR listed 30 people’s names and 200 anonymous whereas Yadav’s FIR had listed 10 people’s names with 200 unlisted people. Five people had already arrested within five days of the mayhem and sent to prison. The Police continue to raid the village looking out for the offenders.
The matter has now been politicized. The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav had tweeted, “UP farmers are getting BJP’s lathis in place of compensation for their land taken over by Trans Ganga City Project. Sugar cane fails to secure a fair price, crops are being devoured by stray animals and the country is witnessing increased incidents of farmer suicides. Is this the definition of growth under BJP’s rule?”
Uttar Pradesh’s former CM, Mayawati, also had tweeted, “UP Government must focus on solving the long-pending issue of land compensation/violence in Unnao, getting more complicated each passing day, instead of subjecting farmers to police lathi-charge and exploitation which is highly condemnable. The government should take up the matter under top priority.”