UP: 37 Days on, Protest Against Azamgarh Airport Expansion Gathers Pace
Lucknow: Continuing their protest at the Khiriya Ka Bagh, near Jamua Hariram against the proposed expansion of Mandauri airstrip in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, entered the 37th day on Friday, the fervour of protesters appeared unabated.
The protesting villagers expressed confidence that the protests would continue until the “bitter end” or until the “government gives in to their demand”. Activists and farm union leaders alleged that the state government and the district administration had remained indifferent towards their genuine demands, As a result, they had given a protest call on November 26 during which Raj Bhawan would be gheraoed under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a body of farmers' unions that spearheaded the agitation against the new farm laws later repealed by the Centre.
To date, no representative from the government’s side has approached the protesting villagers. Moreover, the protesting farmers said they were not ready for any dialogue with the state until they withdraw the proposal to expand the airstrip and take action against the officials who allegedly harassed dalits and women during the survey.
Rajeev Yadav, a member of the 'Makan Bachao Khet Bachao Sanyukta Morcha', which was formed to lead the protest, told NewsClick: "They (government) should either make an announcement or come up with a concrete agenda. Otherwise, the protest would continue irrespective of dialogue," adding that the sit-in protest would intensify in coming days like the farmers' protest against the three controversial farm laws.
Meanwhile, villagers are gearing up for 'Zameen Makan Bachao Padyatra' on Sunday which hundreds of locals are expected to join along with many SKM leaders.
"The Samyukta Kisan Morcha will hold nationwide marches to Raj Bhawans on November 26, alleging a breach of assurance by the Centre on farmers’ pending demands. Manduri Airport will be a key issue during the gherao of Raj Bhawan in Lucknow. The district administration is highly mistaken if they think the protest will last a few months. We will create history like our farmers did, and the government had to repeal the farm laws," Ramnayan Yadav, president of the ‘Makan Bachai Khet Bachao Sanyukta Morcha’, told NewsClick.
The government proposes to expand the Azamgarh airstrip to an international airport under the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) scheme. The project is likely to displace about 10,000 people from around 600 acres of land covering eight villages, including Hasanpur, Kadipur Harikesh, Jamua Hariram, Jamua Jolha, Gadanpur Chindan Patti, Manduri Jigina Karampur and Jehra Pipri. This land in question includes vast stretches of fertile farmland.
The protest, which has now completed 37 days, has seen massive participation from villagers, a large number of whom are reportedly dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). They are unwilling to give up their land and livelihoods tied to the land, as reported by NewsClick.
Meanwhile, Vishal Bhardwaj, District Magistrate of Azamgarh, termed the protests as "politically motivated'', saying that the airstrip expansion will require around 310 acres in the first phase and 264 acres in the second phase, affecting 783 houses across the nine villages. He said these figures emerged after the survey, which was mired in controversy.
Accusing the administration for their "politically motivated" statement, Ramnayan Yadav told NewsClick: "We are not running any movement to grab land illegally and if we had such an intention, we have been rooted by the administration long back. So, the administration should stop lying. We have been protesting for more than a month to save our land, farm and houses. Is it wrong to protest for our constitutional rights in a democratic way?"
"Our farmland and houses should be left as it is. The master plan of the airport should be withdrawn and it should be built where there is vacant land. What is the point of destroying full-fledged villages where people have been living for decades. Where will they go?" he added.
The controversy erupted after the district administration conducted a survey and submitted its report to the government. However, villagers have reportedly raised questions over the manner in which the survey took place, claiming that they were not “allowed or participated” in any survey.
The situation went ‘out of control’ when the survey team allegedly locked men inside their houses and the police misbehaved with the women when they resisted, villagers had alleged.
The protest, going on since September, has garnered support from the farmers fraternity, including Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, Jagtar Singh Bajwa and social activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, social activist Arundhati Dhuru etc. They, along with their supporters, went to Azamgarh protest side in a show of support. Bharat Singh of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said he would also visit the protest site to encourage protesting villagers.
People of the affected villages have been questioning the need for this airport when there are international airports in Varanasi, Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, Ayodhya and now even Lucknow. Moreover, the distance to Lucknow airport has been reduced to 2.5 hours from Azamgarh because of the newly constructed Purvanchal Expressway. The Varanasi airport is also a two hours journey away from the district. The protesters also slammed the government’s choice of acquiring highly fertile land for the expansion project.
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