A 60-year-old struggle for land rights came to an end on Monday, when the Maharashtra government started the process of returning land to farmers. Now 85,000 acres from various parts in western Maharashtra, which was taken over by the British government for sharecropping in 1920, will be returned to 4,015 farmers, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said at Undirgaon village here.
CPI leader Madhavrao Gaikwad, who led the struggle, was present at the event. Another leader of the movement Anna Patil Thorat said, “We have truly become free now. Our land was taken over without our being given any money then, and today we are getting it back. This year, we will truly celebrate Diwali.”
The land is being returned under directives from the Supreme Court. The extent of land returnable is being decided under the Land Ceiling Act. However, the real challenge before the people will be in continuing farming. The land is being marked Grade B from the Revenue Department, and cannot be sold for the next 10 years.
Mr. Chavan, the former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and other politicians urged the farmers to not succumb to temptations for selling the land. Calling the restoration a historic, peaceful movement, Cooperation Minister Harshwardhan Patil said, “Land prices have risen phenomenally since the time your land was taken. Please don’t sell it now.”
“This was a historic wrong, and farmers are finally getting justice. We hope the farmers will not misuse the land and that they will continue to till it,” Mr. Chavan said. “There will be many demands to buy the land, but we request you to keep the land now that you have got it after years of struggle,” said Mr. Pawar, who shared the dais for the first time with Mr. Chavan after he resigned as Deputy Chief Minister over allegations of corruption.
However, Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat said, as and when the time came, the government would consider farmers’ demand to sell their land.
There is another problem confronting the new owners: “We have got the land, but who will give us water?” Namdev Asne, one of the farmers who got 20 acres land, told The Hindu. Ahmednagar was one of the districts reeling under severe drought this year, he stated. In spite of Mr. Chavan’s assurance that the “water situation will be taken care of,” Mr. Asne said, “You can see the magnitude of scams in irrigation. Can we hope that this government will give us our share of water?”