ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Nailing the Himachal Pradesh Government's Lies

The Himachal Pradesh government has made a number of false statements on crucial issues affecting the villagers of Gagret in Una district relating to the land that will be acquired for a proposed special economic zone. An airport that is to come up will affect the population of 25 villages, a majority of whom are peasants owning less than one hectare of land.

COMMENTARY

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Nailing the Himachal Pradesh Government’s Lies

Tikender Singh Panwar

The Himachal Pradesh government has made a number of false statements on crucial issues affecting the villagers of Gagret in Una district relating to the land that will be acquired for a proposed special economic zone. An airport that is to come up will affect the population of 25 villages, a majority of whom are peasants owning less than one hectare of land.

Tikender Singh Panwar (tikender@gmail.com) is president of the Himachal Kisan Sabha.

T
he Himachal Pradesh government is carrying out a campaign of lies and deceit in regard to the special economic zone (SEZ) project of an inter national airport along with air cargo hub at Gagret in Una district in Himachal Pradesh. The government’s falsehoods were exposed by the answers to an application for information about the project under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A majority (nearly 80%) of the small and marginal farmers whose lands will be taken over for the project own less than one hectare of land. In the past, this region has witnessed a number of struggles for land distribution known as mujara thus ensuring that land is quite evenly distri buted. These peasants have now come t ogether under the banner of the Matri B humi Sangharsh Samiti that is spearheading the agitation against the project. The Himachal Kisan -

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Sabha, affiliated to the All-India Kisan Sabha is also supporting the agitation.

The Lies

The government had announced that 4,000 acres of land adjoining the Swan River would be acquired for the project.

However, the answers to the RTI application reveal that 11,500 acres are to be acquired. The government has also said that the land to be acquired is barren and lacks any form of vegetation. I have visited this site and can say with complete conviction that the land in this area is among the most fertile in Himachal Pradesh. Again, the government says that it has bored and is using 3,000 bore wells although including the private ones there are 10,000 bore wells here. The revenue department’s estimate of 7,000 trees in the area is also wrong as there are lakhs of trees here.

Initially, the government had said that only the lands traditionally inundated by the Swan River would be acquired. The questions in the RTI application have uncovered a different picture. More than 25 villages supporting a population of nearly 80,000 are likely to be wiped out by the project. Among the villages to be affected are

december 13, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
COMMENTARY

Ambota, Matyalka, Ghananal, Dioli, Nangal Jariala, Bhadrakali, Gondpur Banehra, Nakdoh, and Kailah Nagar. The government had also promised the peasants the best rates in the market for their land. However, it is now revealed that the government has disallowed any new sale deed from taking place. Apparently, the peasants used to make the sale deed in a bid to ensure that the land prices went up and they could drive a harder bargain with the company. The rates offered by the company which will undertake the project, Skil Infrastructure, do not amount to even one-fifth of the price the peasants have got in the other areas as compensation.

Grounds of Opposition

This SEZ violates the basic understanding that fertile agricultural land will not be occupied for such projects. Not only is this land fertile the farmers even do multi-cropping here. The Bhakra dam led to large-scale displacement followed by the Ranjit Sagar dam at Pong on the Beas River. The families displaced by these projects have not got any land as compensation. Many of the families went to Rajasthan only to come back again. Among those who stand to be displaced by the SEZ in Gagret are many families who are oustees from the above-mentioned two projects. Apart from the land that has already been occupied by various projects, nearly two- thirds of Himachal Pradesh is forest land under the jurisdiction of the forest department. It is therefore the peasant who is b eing pushed off his/her land to make way for projects. It is also important to note that the only plain tract of land in the state is the Una plains while the rest of the state is hilly.

Role of Political Parties

Both, the previous state government led by the Congress and the present Bharatiya Janata Party government have hoodwinked the people of this area. Dissatisfied with the role of the district level administration and the information pertaining to the project, the leaders of the (anti-SEZ) Sangharsh Samiti called a meeting at the district revenue office on 16 October. The district

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-revenue officer announced at this meeting that it has been decided to reassess the e ntire area to draw up a list of the number of houses, the total population as well as survey the flora and fauna in the area. This assessment will be done by a committee comprising two tehsil revenue officers and two members of the Sangharsh S amiti. The farmers now hope that the results of this survey will help them to nail the lies being spread by the administration.

The Struggle

The peasants have been agitating against the project for the past nine months. The protest actions undertaken have included sitting in dharna outside the Vidhan S abha and the district magistrate’s office for s everal hours. While the farmers are very clear that they do not want the project they are also aware that simply opposing the project is not enough. The Kisan Sabha has taken the lead in mapping out programmes to make value additions to their land and protect it from the land mafia.

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Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 13, 2008

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