Villagers and activists, who are up in arms against construction of the National University of Study & Research in Law (NUSRL) campus on what adivasi farmers at Nagri, a village 15 km Ranchi, claim is their farmland, said they planned to launch fresh protests after the Supreme Court on March 18 declined to hear their petition.
Farmers have been protesting the setting up of elite campuses at Nagri since 2010 and had approached the apex court earlier last June after the Jharkhand High Court ruled in favour of the construction of campuses for three colleges.
“We were very hopeful that the Supreme Court will stay the construction. Last year SC refused to hear our petition saying they did not want to rule on a 50-year-old land dispute. This time we were hopeful they will take a fresh look at it. We slowed down our agitation because we had put our faith in the legal route,” said Vikas Toppo, 35, one of the younger leaders of the Nagri Bachao Samiti.
Mr. Toppo, who holds a BA degree from Ranchi University, is accused of attacking a police jeep with an axe last November along with other young men from Nagri, and also of demolishing part of the Rs. 2.25-crore boundary wall of the NUSRL earlier. The Jharkhand government has imposed orders under Section 144 (Unlawful Assembly) of the IPC at Nagri thrice since July and posted paramilitary forces in the village.
“One year’s harvest from this land lasts us for two years; we will save our land at any cost,” said Devgi Toppo, a farmer. Other villagers expressed disillusionment with the response of the political parties.
“Babulal Marandi [the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand] came and said if his party wins the election, he will get this land back to us. Shibu Soren [Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader] came here and said ‘hal chalao’ [plough the fields] last year, but did not follow it up with any step in the Assembly. When we went to meet him at his residence, instead of discussing the issue he started saying things like village Adivasis only want to eat meat and drink hadiya [local rice beer],” said an angry Ratni Toppo.
The Jharkhand government allotted 227 acres to build campuses for NUSRL, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), and the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in 2010. The government claimed it had already acquired the land in 1957-58 to build an extension and a seed farm for Birsa Agricultural University.
The 400-odd Oraon Adivasi families at Nagri contest this citing documents obtained through Right to Information applications, which show that of the 153 families to whom the government had offered compensation in 1957, only 25 took it. The rest had refused. Also, they question if it was legal for the government to have acquired the land under clause 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act, which is meant for situations of urgent public requirement, and not putting it to any use for 55 years.
Following the farmers’ three-year resistance, IIM has since announced that it will build its campus on alternative non-agricultural land; IIIT is yet to start construction. NUSRL is constructing its building on over 63.76 acres in the village.
“On 15 April, we plan to have a rally in which leaders from resistance movements against displacement from all over Jharkhand — those against the North Karanpura project in Hazaribagh, those displaced by the Suvarnrekha dam in Jamshedpur, who won fishing rights in the area recently, those opposed to the Bhushan Steel’s plant in East Singhbhum — will join the rally,” said Stan Swamy, a social activist based in Ranchi.