Image for representational use only. Image Courtesy: Live Cities
“Meri poori kheti leli hai, meri zameen mujhe nahi milegi (They have taken my farmland, I will not get back),” says Sunil Chakke, a local farmer from Sausar in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara.
Chakke is one of the 200 farmers, who lost their lands because of the ongoing onslaught of the Madhya Pradesh government in the name of “vikas”.
The local farmers, who are currently out on the streets to make their voices heard are fighting a dual battle – one against the pro-corporate state government and another to maintain unity in the face of repression by the state.
Chakke adds, “Maine apni paani wali zameen, poore kayde se, stamp duty ke saath khareedi, aur sarkar ne kya kiya? Humara private land corporates ko kaudiyon ke daam bech diya.” (I acquired my fertile land with due process and the stamp duty, what did the state government do? Transferred my land to the corporate at dirt cheap prices!)
The land spread over more than 500 acre was reportedly sold off to the Chhindwara Plus Private Limited at the hands of the Madhya Pradesh government in 2007, under the garb of the creation of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). While allocating the land to the corporate firm, the government had assured the tribal farmers that they will be provided employment and due compensation for the acquisition.
Farmers protesting on the ground shed light on the sorry state of affairs and the vested interests of the state government. Aradhna Bhargav of the NAPM explains, “The 10-year-old project never took off to begin with, only a boundary wall was created around the zone, however no economic activity commenced. Providing jobs to the uneducated Tribals is a far-fetched possibility.” Bhargava, who has been working for the rights of the Tribals, explains that the primary concern of the government was never to initiate any development process but to somehow continue its policy of land grab.
More importantly, the government has allegedly used its state machinery to acquire land that was not its own, and pass to a corporate firm. Chakke explains, “Commissions were sent to people’s houses, and pressure was built on them to sign on some documents. The Tribal population, which is majorly uneducated, was not told about the repercussions of any of this.” Bhargava points out, that under the ambit of the SEZ, government-owned land can be given out to private firms. However, as seen in this case, this was openly flouted by the Madhya Pradesh government.
Under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, the land that has been acquired from the farmers, if remains unused, is mandated to be returned to the farmers. It has been 10 years since the MOU was signed between the Madhya Pradesh government and the Chhindwara Plus Pvt. Ltd., and until now, there are no signs of any return of the land to the farmers.
Bhargava points to the fact that the brazen flouting of the norms is an attempt by the MP government to manipulate the act to benefit private parties.
Farmers on the ground have repeatedly pointed out to the role of the collector and the middlemen which led to the facilitation of and acquisition.
The protesting farmers are now demanding the immediate rollback of the SEZ policy of the government along with strict action against the company’s CEO Dipen Kailashchandra Aggarwal. The farmers have also asserted that the corrupt officials from the state government who sold off the stamp duty to the corporate firm must be identified and tried criminally.
The instance of the land grab in the Chhindwara region is not the first of its kind. The region has remained politically and environmentally volatile, and is now gaining renewed importance from the incumbent BJP.
With Congress emerging as a big contender under the leadership of Kamal Nath as the state president, the BJP is hoping to make inroads into Chhindwara, Nath’s bastion. The district holds the key to seven crucial Assembly seats.