People who give up land for NH expansion feel they are inadequately compensated

T.V. Lakshmanan and his family had their first taste of ‘development’ in the late 1990s when their house and 11 cents of land at Chorode near Vadakara were acquired for the expansion of the National Highway -17. Fortunately for them, they had six more cents of land adjacent to it where they rebuilt their life from the scratch.

In 2012, ‘development’ came back for more in the form of yet another highway expansion, this time set to gobble up the rest of their land and Lakshmanan’s barber shop, the sole source of their income. The 64-year-old man lost all hope and, in last September , ended his life by jumping into a well.

“It was with great difficulty that we built this new house. We got only meagre compensation during the last acquisitions. He did not have any hope of receiving adequate compensation for the shop and the house. Now we survive on my sister’s widow pension. We have nowhere to go if we are thrown out,” says Leela, Lakshmanan’s wife, who now lives in the house with her three daughters and two sisters.

Meanwhile, the land acquired in the late 1990s is yet to be made use of. A survey stone adjacent to the house’s wall marks that acquisition.

Sweeping them away

More than 5,000 families and thousands of shopkeepers are set to lose their land and livelihood in Kozhikode district alone by the NH-17 expansion.

There has been strong opposition on the ground against the acquisition proceedings with calls for limiting the width of the highway to 30 m (for which land was acquired in 1990s) rather than the 45 m now planned. Union Minister of Surface Transport Oscar Fernandes’s recent statement that the States can decide on the width of the highways is also being cited by various protest groups.

“In a State with such a high density of population, a highway of 45 m width can displace a lot of people. They could use the land acquired 15 years ago for expanding the road to 30 m, which is adequate for smooth traffic. The government is running schemes like ‘zero landless,’ and at the same time, dispossessing people of their land,” says A.T. Mahesh, secretary of the people’s action committee against the expansion.

Even for those who are ready to shift, the compensation package as per the Section 3G of the National Highways Act of 1956 has been a dampener. The notification says that an amount proportional to the ‘market rate’ in the region’s register offices three years ago will be awarded. But the rate shown in the title deeds is usually much lower than the actual. Also, land prices have shot up here in the last three years.

The other conditions of the package are also disadvantageous to those who give up land. A family with an annual income of above Rs.72,000 or having land elsewhere will not get any land in return. “Most of the families and shopkeepers have been living here for generations. They cannot resettle with the inadequate amount provided by the government. Now that the 3G notification is in force, they cannot even sell this land. The land mafia has already bought vast tracts of land behind these plots anticipating expansion,” says K. Dasan, MLA, Koyilandy.

The district administration, following the long-winded protests that prevented any acquisition activities, formulated a modified compensation package and forwarded it to the State government in November 2012. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had also promised the local party leaders that acquisitions would be carried out only after the package was declared. But the protesters say that any action is yet to be taken, though acquisition proceedings are on.

“I called up the Revenue Department two weeks ago and asked for the file to be circulated. Once it is passed, further action can be taken,” says Kozhikode District Collector C.A. Latha.

When contacted by The Hindu, Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash said he would check with the officials concerned.

“There has never been a fair compensation package for such acquisition in this country. The NH Act has a clause preventing any litigation,” Mr. Mahesh says.

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