Inauguration of Naya Raipur, a city planned by the Congress government in 2002, is the biggest event in Chhattisgarh’s history since its inception in 2000. The city is spread out in three layers having a core area with a safari, golf course, government offices, film city, theme park, central business district, hospitals, housing societies, health and education complex and army cantonment spread over almost 20,000 acres.

Approaching the city, in the middle of a vast swathe of barren land, on a grass mound about 15 feet high, stands a platform with figures of two women and a man dancing, presumably to a tribal tune. A peacock with a CFL lamp hanging from its beak is watching them. The platform also hosts a tiger, a bison, a buffalo, and two birds.

The ‘installation’ was designed to mark the inauguration of a ‘jungle safari’ by Chief Minister Raman Singh last week. The safari, along with a botanical garden and a golf course, is among the most touted features of the new capital. Government officials believe that these are ‘mandatory’ for a modern city like Naya Raipur. Villagers who have lost their lands to the city and the safari, however, think otherwise. “It would adversely affect at least two villages, at a time when large scale deforestation is going on unchecked in north Chhattisgarh,” said Mohan Sahu of Khandwa village. Mr Sahu lost 20 acres of farm land to the safari.

An organisation of farmers who have lost their land – Naya Rajdhani Pravabhit Kisan Kalyan Samiti (KKS) – has appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee to cancel his scheduled visit to inaugurate the capital on Nov. 6.

Digambar Sahu (name changed) from an affected village, Baraud, lost 18 acres of farmland and now works for a builder in Naya Raipur. Last Saturday, as he was heading for work, few of the fellow villagers asked him why he was working for someone displacing the farmers. Mr. Sahu replied, “You refused a discussion five years ago. Why point a finger at me now?”

He explained that he and other the farmers were paid approximately Rs 6 lakh to Rs 12 lakh per acre as compensation between 2006 and 2012. “That is Rs13 to Rs 22 for each square feet of land,” he pointed out whereas real estate companies are now charging the consumers Rs 3000 per square feet of finished housing.

The government has banned sale of land in 27 villages of Naya Raipur since 2005. Farm land could only be sold to a government body, Naya Raipur Development Authority (NRDA). “We lost our livelihood and are paid Rs 15 per square feet. On the other hand, NRDA sold our land to the builders who are selling it at an astronomical price to consumers,” says Kamta Rathre, the secretary of KKS.

However, NRDA data suggests that till September this year more than 12,000 acres of land has been acquired mostly through ‘mutual consent.’ “We were threatened with confiscation of our land under the Land Act of 1894. Is that ‘mutual consent,”’ asked Geeta Yadav, sarpanch of Khandwa.

The CEO of NRDA, S S Bajaj denying the allegation, told The Hindu that the Government is not ‘making any profit’. “We gave an offer to the farmers at the beginning to get involved as partners. They refused and opted for compensation. In fact, cost of developing a city is much more than its existing land price. The government is incurring all costs and paid the farmers more than the market price.” The ‘Land Use Plan’ of Naya Raipur illustrates that at least 15-20 % of the inner core of the city will be up for sale for commercial activities.

There are other anomalies which are leading the farmers to believe that they have had a bad deal. Seventy-year-old Chaitram Yadav, whose land records show that he was cultivating an irrigated patch, was paid a lower compensation that stipulated for ‘non irrigated’ land. Several farmers complained about such anomalies, while Mr. Bajaj said these are ‘minor mistakes’ by local land revenue officers.

The Chairman of NRDA, N Baijendra Kumar, feels the land has been acquired ‘peacefully’. “We got good cooperation form the farmers. There is trivial resistance from few individuals and we hope to resolve it,” he said. Mr. Kumar insisted that the rehabilitation deal given to the farmers is ‘one of the best in the country’.

Meanwhile deep inside the villages, the peasant families are having sleepless nights. The local intelligence is routinely calling the peasant leaders to check their whereabouts. “I think we all will be picked up soon,” said a seemingly exhausted Kamta Rathre after a hard day’s campaign in the villages. The peasants have decided not to celebrate the inauguration of the new capital and will switch off their lights for a week to register their protest.