‘Land being acquired on pretext of development'

Strong protest: Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar addressing the convention in Jaipur on Wednesday. — Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Strong protest: Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar addressing the convention in Jaipur on Wednesday. — Photo: Rohit Jain Paras  

Civil rights activists addressing a convention on land acquisition and displacement here on Wednesday registered a strong protest against “land use change” at several places in Rajasthan resulting in perpetual threat of eviction to the local communities. Land is being acquired on the pretext of development and industrialisation, they said.

A large number of people affected by the expansion of factories and commercial units, establishment of power projects and residential colonies, illegal mining and widening of highways from Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Barmer, Baran, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Pratapgarh and Jaipur districts attended the day-long convention.

Dalits and tribals deprived of their land rights said lakhs of bighas of land across the State had been converted over the past eight years for the benefit of industrialists, builders and mine owners. “Life-sustaining resources such as water and forests are being taken [away] from farmers and pastoralists,” said Mohar Singh of Dagla village.

Among others, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey, Azadi Bachao Andolan leader Banwarilal Sharma, Samagra Seva Sangh president Sawai Singh and People's Union for Civil Liberties activists Radhakant Saxena and Kailash Meena addressed the convention.

PUCL State general secretary Kavita Srivastava said people opposing the ongoing mining and displacement projects were being “brutally repressed” by the police, and hundreds of false cases had been slapped on them. “The worst victims are the Dalits, who do not get the right to use the land despite [having] the title.”

Ms. Srivastava alleged the State Government had misused the Forest Rights Act, 2006, to deny the land title to tribal farmers in southern parts of the State. Only 30,000 farmers were given land rights, which were considerably less than their original claims.

Major instances of displacement and land rights deprivation narrated at the convention included permission for mining given to three cement factories in Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts, widening of Delhi-Jaipur National Highway at Paota, launching of residential schemes in 25 villages of Phagi region, expansion of wildlife sanctuary in tribal-dominated Shahbad region and construction of a ring road around Jaipur.

Ms. Patkar said the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, had “outlived its utility” after the regressive amendments made to it, and had led to massive evictions and exploitation of natural resources at the cost of poor and destitute people. She called upon the local communities to unite for protecting their land, forest, water and minerals.

The participants demanded that pasture and farming land be kept out of the purview of acquisition, and water and other natural resources be protected to ensure food security. They also sought immediate action against “the nexus among corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and corporate houses for exploitation of resources”.

A delegation of activists later went to meet Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to bring to his notice the destruction of the rural landscape and “forced acquisition” and exploitation of agricultural land, forests, minerals and other natural resources.

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