As political parties turn their attention to the events in Bhatta-Parsaul villages in Uttar Pradesh, farmers' representatives and NGOs have raised their pitch for the Central and State governments to “freeze all land grab” and shift policy discussion from land acquisition “through an amended Land Acquisition Bill” to land conservation with mandatory participation of local people.

Demanding a judicial inquiry into the matter, they urged the Centre to intervene immediately to ensure that “police siege was lifted,” relief was provided to the affected families and injured people, and all FIRs registered against agitating farmers as well as innocent villagers were quashed.

“The Land Acquisition Act is the instrument through which lakhs of hectares of land is being grabbed in the garb of development. Repeal this Act,” they demanded, while announcing their plan to intensify their stir at the Jantar Mantar here.

Denouncing the “forcible” land acquisition in Bhatta-Parsaul with the alleged connivance of private builders, the farmers' representatives told journalists here that they did not want a development model that was conceived “in the garb of Yamuna Expressway,” building of luxury townships and Sports City with ‘Formula One' race-track on their fertile farm lands.

Contrary to the Uttar Pradesh government's assertion of entering into a “proper settlement with land owners,” the farmer representatives said land had been taken away forcibly at throwaway prices by invoking ‘emergency use' Section under the Act.

“In several cases, land owners' names were altered in the revenue registry under the emergency clause and they were offered a fait accompli to vacate their land or face police action at the behest of the builders and contractors. In addition to their livelihood, they lost their homes too,” the farmer representatives said.Addressing a joint press conference here, Satpal Choudhary, Kesri Singh Gujjar, Kishan Bir Chaudhary, Pushpesh Verma, Brijender, Vinod Khati along with Vandana Shiva of Navdanya said 5,500 cases had been filed in courts for de-notification, with farmers seeking their land back. De-notification had already been ordered in three villages. According to them, because of land grab, over 10 lakh Uttar Pradesh youths had been rendered unemployed.

“The government is not for profiteering, yet fertile land has been taken from farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul under the emergency clause for Rs. 845 a sq mt, allotted at Rs. 10,500 a sq mt to private builders who sell for Rs. 1.5 lakh to Rs. 2 lakh per sq mt to the end-users [consumers]. The builder has to pay only 10 per cent initially; the rest is recovered from him in 10 years which he claims from end-users for whom he also arranges loans from banks etc. The board that approves such transactions comprises bureaucrats with no people's representatives on it,” said Mr. Choudhary and Mr. Singh.

Asked whether their protest was against inadequate compensation or being displaced, they said “both.” “We want market price for our land plus 80 per cent share in the developed project to compensate us for our loss of land, livelihood and homes and so that our children are not unemployed.”

Charging political parties with entering the fray only with an eye on “vote-bank politics,” the farmer leaders said the need of the hour was to provide relief to the villagers in Bhatta and Parsaul.

They claimed that their agitation was peaceful. But the State government responded by caning them and arresting seven of their representatives who had gone to give a memorandum to Governor B.L. Joshi. As per official data, four persons, including two policemen, have died but the farmers' representatives claimed that about 70 people have been killed. The Uttar Pradesh government maintains that all claims of farmers have been settled and the present agitation is led by “anti-social” elements.