Sixty-year-old Mahabir is fidgety while standing at Raisina Hill with the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Secretariat so close to the eye. This is his first visit here. He has heard that this is the seat of the Indian government.
Mahabir’s brother Virender, 44, stands close to him, feeling shy. He has been to India Gate once before. That is all that he has seen of Lutyens’ Delhi. “All this is so nice and impressive,” sighs Virender.
The brothers smile in reminiscence as Virender whispers, “Hundred acres of this land once belonged to our ancestors. This was our village, our land. Today, rich people live on it. And look at us. We struggle to make both ends meet. We want the land back or give us compensation for it. Why should we give up on our rights?”
Hope against hope
“Sometimes, I think a little land could have helped my family in many ways. I could have been a farmer,” says Mahabir while walking down towards India Gate. He has some time before catching the next train home.
These daily wagers from Pignor village near Palwal in Haryana are the fourth generation descendants of Kallu, who owned the land in Raisina village and carried out agricultural activities on it with his son Nathu, who also owned a part of the land.
Both Kallu and Nathu lost their land to government acquisition in 1911, when the British government decided to shift the Capital from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Delhi.
The area comprising Raisina and Malcha village were chosen as the new administrative head as it was green and well drained. Large chunks of land were acquired and the landless farmers moved out of Delhi.
Kallu and Nathu were awarded compensation of ₹2,217 10 anna and 11 pai. They never accepted it and shifted out of Delhi to Pignor in Haryana. Travelling to and fro was not easy in those days and so, Kallu and Nathu never returned to claim an enhanced compensation. The generations that followed never had enough money to contest the same.
Mahabir and Virender show land records, all in English and Hindi, of those times to show that their ancestors did not take the compensation. “We grew up listening to the tale of their ancestors who once owned 100 acres of land in Raisina village, which is now the Raisina Hill and its adjoining areas. The narrative about the olden days included the mention of how our forefathers turned down the compensation the British government offered for their land.
Not a lone case
Documents maintained in the Tis Hazari courts show many farmers of Malcha and Raisina village did not take compensation.
However, it was a man called Sajjan who initiated a case against the government for compensation of 32 acres of his forefather’s land acquired by the British government in Malcha village.
Sajjan also grew up listening to stories of the acquisition and met advocate Surat Singh, who moved the High Court claiming compensation.
What gave teeth to their claim after over 100 years was the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which was enforced January 1, 2014, onwards. “According to this, where an award has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of the Act itself, but physical possession of the land has not been taken by the government, or the compensation has not been paid, the acquisition proceedings shall be deemed to have been lapsed. When it says five years or more, it can mean 100 years ago also,” says Mr. Singh.
Sajjan now lives in village named after Malcha in Sonipat. Most of its inhabitants were the farmers of Malcha who shifted out of Delhi post-acquisition. Sajjan even shows a letter written in Urdu by his great great great grandfather to the British administration in which he asked them not to consider the compensation for his sister, saying she had eloped. It was when people in the region started talking about Sajjan’s case that Mahabir decided to follow suit.
“We can only imagine the history but records speak in our favour. Are we hoping against hope,” wonders Mahabir as he leaves for the Tilak Bridge railway station.