Indian farmers protest road upgrade that would threaten their land
The Los Angeles Times, Mark Magnier
Reporting from Dhanaula, India — Three hundred farmers and shopkeepers blocked national highway 64 in Dhanaula for several hours on a recent weekday, protesting a planned upgrade they say threatens their farmland and economic livelihood.
Government officials say they're only surveying the area and haven't decided on an exact route for the proposed $260-million four-lane freeway. But the locals weren't waiting, fearful they would have little influence once the decision was announced.
"If they move this highway, it will pave over good farmland, bankrupt us and turn this into a ghost town," said Jeet Pal Singh, a town councilman.
India, with its superpower ambitions and supercharged economy, desperately needs more and better roads, airports and terminals. An estimated 40% of its produce spoils on the way to market. Global trade is hampered by infrastructure bottlenecks.
The proposed upgrade here in western Punjab state, part of the 34,000 miles of new highways planned nationwide for the 2007-12 period, would replace a two-lane potholed road, where late-model cars jostle with belching trucks, oxcarts, pedestrians and goat herds.
But farmers strongly resist giving up their land in this predominantly rural nation, where 70% of the population still lives in about 630,000 villages, local identity remains strongly tied to farming and the prospect of moving to one of the nation's overwhelmed cities is not particularly attractive.
Late last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to introduce a land acquisition bill after thousands of farmers went on a three-week rampage, citing frustration over the amount of compensation they were offered for their land, which they were being forced to sell for an expressway project. They blocked the national highway, set vehicles ablaze and killed a policeman.
India's existing land acquisition law, written in 1894, sets compensation extremely low and is ambiguous on when "public purpose" expropriations are justified. There are accusations that corrupt local officials use the law to secure cheap land for their business cronies.
Adding to the problem is India's poor title search and land record system detailing who owns what.
"This colonial-era law was OK when land prices were not so high," said Yoginder K. Alagh, a former power, science and technology minister and now chairman of Gujarat's Institute of Rural Management. "But land's becoming more scarce, and farmers know the value is rising."
|Powered by Sigsiu.NET|