“This land is my mother and I will not give it to anyone,” says Bakchand Baghel.
Baghel, 58, who hails from the Belar village in Lohandiguda development block in Chitrakoot, is one of those farmers whose 28 acres was forcefully acquired by the government a few years ago.
“Apni Maa ko kaun bechta hai. Isi dharti se hame khane aur rehne ko mil raha hai to mai ise kyu kisi ko bech du? Agar mai ye jameen kisi ko de deta hu to mere bacche to anaath ho jayenege aur ye gaon ujad jayega,” says Bakchand. (Who sells one’s mother? This land gives us food and shelter. My children will be orphaned if I will sell this land)
With tears in his eyes, the farmer says villagers, many of them tribals, of this block have been struggling since the past 10 years and the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA candidate, Lacchuram, is in favour of giving this land to the Tatas and other corporates who want to set up industrial units in the area as it is rich in natural resources and the the level of groundwater is also high.
Baghel says it has been 10 years since villagers have been struggling to get the lease of their land which was forcefully acquired by the government. “We do not get subsidised seeds, urea and other agricultural products, which the government gives to farmers in other areas of Bastar,” he adds.
Lohandiguda is a development block in Bastar division situated almost 40 kilometers towards Abujhmad from the Jagdalpur divisional headquarters.It is also home to close to 3,000 voters, most of them are Madia and Moria tribals, whose main profession is farming wheat, rice and tamarind.
The Lohandiguda development block falls in the Chitrakot Vidhan Sabha which is a ST (Scheduled Tribe) reserved constituency and is held by Deepak Baij of Congress but is now slipping from their grip and going towards the Communist Party of India(CPI) and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh’s joint candidate. In 2010, the government forcefully acquired land in 10 villages namely-- Badanji, Bade Paroda, Belar, Beliapal, Chindgaon, Dabpal, Dhuragaon, Kumli, Sirisaguda and Takraguda.
Meanwhile, Congress has been trying to win back voters of this block and has been circulating full page advertisements assuring them that if they win, they will not allow corporates to acquire land on Lohandiguda.
Madhu Nag, a tribal from Balar village, rues that 28 acres of his land has been forcefully acquired by the government and now he is left with only twoacres for farming.
“All my 30 acres of land is very fertile and is on the roadside. The government tried to compensate us by giving Rs 20 lakh in return of the land, but we refused, By then the land was forcefully taken from us,” Madhu says, adding that his father was jailed for protesting against the forceful acquisition and has been ailing ever since.
Vimlendu Jha, a farmer who also doubles up as a stringer for some of local newspapers, reconfirms this. He says the government acquired his 50 acres, too, and he has not been able to get the hold of the lease so far.
“Not just my 50 acres, but 5,000 acres of very fertile land have been acquired in the Lohandigura block. The government has forced compensation on 285 landowners against their will. The residents of the area have been agitating to get their land back, and this time have vowed to oust the BJP from the area and bring CPI to power, as it is the only party which stood with them during the days of struggle,” he says.
Jha says it was due to CPI’s support to their agitation that force the Tatas to withdraw their project from Lohandiguda, and now the villagers have determined not to allow any corporate to acquire any land.
When contacted, BJP’s candidate Lacchuram, termed all the people protesting against industrialisation as “fools”.
Kamlesh Gajbhiye, 58, a local CPI leader who guided the villagers’ movement against the government, says the tribals have some demands and if the government is prepared to agree to those, the people will give their land.
“The demand is to have 40% share in the industry which comes here along with Rs 7 lakh per acre as compensation for non-fertile land and Rs 10 lakh per acre for fertile land, 20% share in foreign investment and management in the villagers’ hands. These are some points of our 14 demands, “ Gajbhiye says, adding that the government should also ensure compensation of Rs 1 lakh per year for the loss being incurred by the villagers on farming since the past 10 years.
With the ball now clearly in the government’s court, villagers of Lohandigura block are firm and determined to keep their struggle on for “Jal, Jungle, Jameen” (Water, Forests, Land).