- Tribal children lead Nagri protest against land acquisition for colleges
Government wants to acquire 227 acres of paddy farmers’ land to build
Agitated tribals protesting against the acquisition of their land at
Nagri near Ranchi on Monday.— Photo: Manob Chowdhury Vikas Kumar, a
college student from near Patriatu in Jharkhand, made an unsuccessful
attempt to ride his motorcycle through the blockade at Nagri. “Today
[Monday] is the last date to submit my MBA admission form,” he pleaded
with the adivasi children half his height who stood in the way with
sticks in their hands. “Show us proof,” demanded Nishant Topo, a
student of Class VII from a village school nearby.
Nagri, a tribal village 15 km north of Ranchi, has been on the boil
since this past July. On Monday the tribals declared an eight-hour
bandh and blocked the roads in protest against the government
acquisition of 227 acres of these paddy farmers’ land to build the
Ranchi campuses of the elite Indian Institute of Management, Indian
Institute of Information Technology and the National University of
Study & Research in Law (NUSRL).
At 7 a.m., Topo, his school friends Abhishek Oraon and Chandan Oraon,
and a dozen other children ranging in age from six to ten years began
taking turns with their parents to enforce an eight-hour road blockade
to protest acquisition of their farmland. “ Sarkar ko taqleef milega
[This will inconvenience the Government],” said Topo (11). Three hours
later, the police broke the blockade and detained eight persons.
The Government claims it acquired the land from them in 1957-58 to
build an extension to Birsa Agricultural University. However,
villagers say they first heard of any such proposal only last year –
that, too, when they went to local officials to enquire why they were
not being compensated for the 13 acres on which the Government had
built an extension to the Ranchi Ring Road.
A Right to Information application revealed that of the 153 families
to whom the Government had offered a total compensation of Rs.1,55,147
in 1957, only 25 took it at a rate of Rs.2,700 per acre. The rest
refused to give up their land. “Government papers show that they took
the land under clause 17 (4) of the Land Acquisition Act, which is for
situations of urgency such as a railway line or an airport. If it was
an emergency, why has it taken the Government 50 years to start work?
There is 1,900-acre wasteland nearby in Kanke. Why can’t the
Government use that instead?” asks tribal activist Dayamani Barla.
Nagri’s farmers grow paddy, wheat, gram, vegetables and keep cattle.
“One acre yields over 80 mann [over 3,200 kg)] of paddy, which is
enough food and fodder to last us two years. This land is enough to
sustain our generations and pay for our children’s education,” said
Parveen Topa Oraon.
“If Nagri land goes, tomorrow ours will go too. This Government is
forcefully taking everyone’s land in the name of a new Ranchi, greater
Ranchi,” said Gunni Oraon from Chaura Toli village, one of 35 villages
that support Nagri’s protest.
From March to June, the villagers sat on a peaceful protest in their
fields. In July, when the Government started building a boundary wall
on the proposed campuses they demolished the wall and fought the
police with sticks and catapults. Last month, former Chief Minister
Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) led a protest
in which thousands tried to cross the police barricade outside the
State Assembly, leading to the death of one person.
The issue has continuously escalated and become a symbol of
Jharkhand’s people resistance to large-scale land acquisition even as
the High Court ruled in favour of the Government. The Supreme Court
turned down Nagri villagers’ appeal in June.
“The Chief Justice of the High Court is also the Chancellor of NUSRL.
This is a conflict of interest,” alleged Jharkhand Human Rights
Movement general secretary Gladson Dungdung .
The Arjun Munda government has since set up a five-member committee to
look into the issue. “The families flatly refused to take
compensation. We have included that in our report. It is now with the
Chief Minister’s Office,” said Revenue Minister Mathura Prasad Mahto,
who headed the committee. The report may be presented before the High
Court this Wednesday.