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A 43 Year Long Wait: The Case Of Chhattisgarh’s Rice Farmers

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By Hemant Gairola & Hitesh Sharma for Youth Ki Awaaz:

If justice delayed is justice denied, does compensation delayed amount to compensation denied? Having waited a good 43 years for compensation for their land, farmers of a village in Chhattisgarh say the amount they finally received, is too little, too late. After all, a paisa today is a rupee tomorrow!

Oh, by the way, on top of that, not everyone who parted with their land has received the compensation, yet.

43 Years Ago

Jivnandan Diliwar-min
Jivnandan Diliwar

In the wake of the severe drought in 1972, the government had decided to build water reservoirs in affected areas. One such reservoir was built in Litia village in Durg district of Chhattisgarh (then Madhya Pradesh). Land was identified for the purpose, a reservoir and a canal were built and the farmers were told to wait for the compensation to be paid.

And so they waited.

Over the years, young tillers turned old, old ones became frail and the wait continued. The old got older, the frail ones passed away, and regimes changed at the central and state levels. Chhattisgarh got carved out of MP but the wait continued.

Jivnandan Diliwar, who was still a child when his family’s land was acquired by the government, said at times they would speak with officials in the irrigation department and often submit memorandums to the Collector and the sub-divisional magistrate, seeking their long-overdue compensation. But their pleas drew only empty promises.

Relief, If You Can Call It That

After 40 years of running a fool’s errand and living in a fool’s paradise, a new generation of farmers of Litia got in touch with ‘Chhattisgarh Pragatisheel Kisan Sangathan’ or CPKS (Progressive Farmers’ Organisation) and sought help.

Durg-based social activist Rajkumar Gupta, who’s associated with the farmers group, told Youth Ki Awaaz, that over the past four decades, the farmers tried all they could – be it talking to the local MLA or to the district administration, the various departments concerned or the state government’s public grievance fora – they voiced their plaint at each and every level, but their voice remained unheard.

When his organisation, CPKS, learnt about the plight of the people awaiting compensation in 2013, he drew the Collector’s attention to it. The Collector’s office took note and set about resolving it. The formalities took about two years and at the fag-end of 2015, many landowners received compensation from the government.

“Aaj hoga, kal hoga kar ke. Waise hi aaj tak ghiste-ghiste abhi tak lag gaya hai,” (“It will happen today, it will happen tomorrow. The issue kept dragging on and it took this long for a resolution to come about”) said Diliwar, making his frustration known.

Raw, Unfair, Untimely Deal

But the ending was not to the liking of the farmers. They were not too thrilled at finally getting the cheque that had once seemed near-impossible.

canal and reservoir
The canal (L) and the reservoir (R).

The farmers believe they have been shortchanged and that for all practical purposes, their rightful dues are more than what the government has paid them. All the farmers nodded in approval as Diliwar raised the question of who would make good the loss their families had to suffer for 43 years, during which they could neither make money off their asset nor had they been paid in lieu of it.

I.K. Verma, President of CPKS, said the farmers whose land was acquired for the reservoir have been paid between ₹3 lakh and ₹3.5 lakh per acre. Depending on whether their land gave a single crop or double crop a year, the farmers think they should get between ₹6 lakh to ₹10 lakh per acre.

Gupta too agreed that the farmers have been given a raw deal. He noted it was in 2013 that the paperwork for land acquisition began, including preliminary processes like de-notification. He said the amount the farmers received includes twice the market rate of their land in 2013 and interest on it, starting from 2013 to the time of payment in 2015-end. Considering the more than inordinate delay in paying the settlement, he reasoned, the amount should have been at least four times the market rate.

He added that it took two years for their settlement to materialise after the process was initiated in 2013 owing to the uncertainty over the Land Acquisition Bill, 2015.

The NDA government had proposed a few changes in the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, but the bill was widely criticised as anti-farmer. Among other condemned proposals was the one seeking to remove the clause pertaining to the consent of the land owner. The bill failed to get enough support and was allowed to lapse. Gupta said it worked well for the farmers as their compensation was calculated as per the provisions of the 2013 version of the Act. Here, he says the timing was perfect as had the paperwork for their relief begun even a year earlier, they would have been paid even less under the archaic Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

While a section of the farmers has approached the administration, seeking a revision in the pay-off, some are still waiting for just their cheques to arrive.

Gupta said that those whose land was acquired for the canal are yet to receive compensation as their paperwork is tangled in a cobweb of complications, such as change in plot number and transfer of land ownership. He was expecting these landowners would get paid in a few months.

From Land Owners To Manual Labourers

This generation of villagers grew up in deprivation owing to government apathy. As many farmers had farmland elsewhere in the village, the hasty and unplanned acquisition in 1972 didn’t choke their earnings altogether. However, there were many families whose sole piece of land was gone. They were left high and dry.

One such villager, who was barely two or three years old when his father’s land was gobbled up, rued that his was a poor family to begin with and had just one plot of land. With that also gone, his family of farmers had to become manual labourers. Had they received the settlement in time, they would not have sunk further into poverty, he said. He lamented that with the compensation he’d now get, he couldn’t even consider buying land and undo the damage the government had done to his family, more than four decades ago. He’s among those who are still awaiting payment.

chhattisgarh farmer
Bhikarimal, a former farmer.

Bhikharimal’s story is no different: the only plot gone, with payment yet to be received. The ever-present smile on his wrinkled face belies the disappointment he has lived with for 43 years. He was in his early 20s when his only piece of land was sucked up for the project. With his only source of income snatched from him, there was no option other than manual labour.

“Hamaari zameen naale me nikli hai. Aaj bhi paisa nahi mila. Kai baar aate hain, jaate hain. Aa jayega bolte hain, par aata nahi hai. Kya karna hai soch ke mar gaye hain. Marne waale hain hum! Meri 75 saal umar ho gayi hai. Main kisko bolun ab, bhai?” (“My land was taken for the canal. I haven’t yet received money. I have been through the runaround many times. I’m told I’ll get the money, but it doesn’t happen. The dilemma of what to do now is killing me. I’m almost on my deathbed. I’m 75-years-old. To whom do I plead with at this age?”), the septuagenarian vented out.

And while there are those who stayed put in the village, many who lost their only piece of land to the project migrated to nearby towns and cities in search for work.

For Rice Bowl Farmers, A Begging Bowl Instead:

IK Verma also, claimed Litia’s is not an isolated case. He alleged that the administration’s approach of ‘acquire land, forget landowner’ persists. He said, even today government projects gobble up farmers’ land for projects such as stop-dams, canals and road-widening.

Gupta rattled off a list of villages in Chhattisgarh where people have been affected. He asserted that the Centre’s scheme of laying roads in villages is the biggest culprit, never compensating landowners for tearing through their land. He said these are marginal farmers are poor and unorganised because of which their hardships go unnoticed. He drew a contrast with cash-crop farmers of north India, whose violent agitations, backed by political parties, draw traction in the media.

Underlining that Chhattisgarh is known as the ‘rice bowl of India‘ (‘dhaan ka katora’, as it’s called here), Verma quipped that the administration is handing a begging bowl to the rice cultivators.

Image Courtesy: 101Reporters.com

Hemant Gairola is a Dehradun-based independent journalist and a senior member of 101Reporters.com. He has worked with national dailies for five years. He quit the newsroom to become a musician. When not making music with his band, he hunts for story ideas. Hitesh Sharma is a Durg-based independent reporter and a member of 101Reporters.com.

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