By Dr Anushka Kulkarni
The involvement of Radheshyam Mopalwar, a Telgi scam accused as one of the principal in-charge members in ‘The Samruddhi Corridor’ project has given the issue a turn. On one hand, the government talks about the prospects of this Mumbai-Nagpur highway, also called as the Maharashtra Prosperity Corridor, and on the other hand, a number of farmers are protesting as they claim that their land has been acquired illegally by the government.
In the midst of this, the question arises that how has the implementation of the CM Devendra Fadnavis’s dream project been handed over to the accused of the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam who has been alleged under different IPC sections for cheating, fraud and forgery?
Debate in the legislature
The monsoon session of the State Legislature has also attracted discussions on the Samruddhi Corridor issue. State chief (NCP) and a member of legislative council, Sunil Tatkare mentioned that the farmers have been led into distress because of this development project. However, Eknath Shinde, Minister-PWD, stated that the Samruddhi Corridor will be a milestone for the growth and development of the farmers as well as the state.
Farmers from all the 10 districts from where this highway passes have been protesting. Around 4000 families from various villages have united under the banner of Samruddhi Corridor Sangharsh Samiti to support the interest of the farmers.
What is the project all about?
Samruddhi Corridor project is a 710 km long expressway which connects 10 districts, 30 talukas, and 354 villages in Maharashtra. It has and is building 400 plus vehicular underpasses, 300 plus cattle/ pedestrian underpasses and 50 plus flyovers which will prove as a corridor that connects the drought affected areas to the rest of Maharashtra. This will cut the travel time from 14-16 hours to 6-8 hours with a speed of 150 km per hour. This will, in turn, help the farmers to get their produce to Jawaharlal Nehru Port for export in the shortest time possible.
Along with this, the proposed agri-based industries, townships, godowns, cold storage facilities, vegetable shops, 24 smart townships and connectivity to Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor will create better rural infrastructure. Amongst the different industrial areas in Maharashtra, the DMIC node and the Dry port in Jalna and Wardha will be directly connected to JNPT. This will also help in employment generation.
Why are farmers protesting?
The highway will be constructed through villages. As a result of this, a number of farmers will lose their fertile land in this process. Those farmers who will be losing their land have opposed the project. Questions are being raised about the nature of the land acquisition, the credibility of the decisions made by the government and the planning as well as implementation of the project. There are violent protests by farmers in Nashik and Palghar.
As per the ‘Land Acquisition Act, 2013’ it is compulsory for the government to pay four times the compensation of the ready reckoner rate. The ready reckoner rate is calculated as an average of the highest land sale deals in the last three years. Social impact assessment is the major component of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. The state government has promised the compensation and decided the rates for it as per this act. The land acquisition will be done through the Maharashtra Highways Act, 1955 law which was revived just for this purpose. Amidst all this, the benefits for farmers like job entitlement, allowances, compensation for the landless labourers and the social impact assessment are ignored. Through this, the state has clearly shown that it is selectively using the Land Acquisition Law.
The government has three proposals for the farmers who are land owners:
1. Land pooling: Under this proposal, the land owners get 25% area of the developed land and annuity benefit of 10 years. They can also buy back the land in 10 years.
2. Direct Purchase: Under this proposal the farmer who and owner signs a sale agreement with the government he gets an amount of 25% above the compensation rate.
3. Acquisition: Under this proposal, if the land owner opts for neither of the above then his land would be acquired forcibly.
In various areas like in the district of Raigad, the land prices offered by the government is much lower than the actual market price of the land. The activists have been protesting for the same as the government is acquiring land as per the Land Acquisition Act 2013, but the compensation packages are not based on the market price of the land. Above all, many farmers are not ready to sacrifice their fertile land at the cost of this development project. Farmers have said that their fertile land is an assured sustainable income for their families unlike this project wherein they would be offered jobs of helpers and cleaners.
The compensatory amount that is offered to the farmer is 40 to 85 lakh per hectare of non-irrigated land. The compensation for irrigated land would be double this amount whereas for the tribal land it would be 1.5 times. This decision and the forcible acquisition of their land have given rise to farmers’ protest by the Samruddhi Mahamarg Shetkari Sangharsh.
Igniting debates and imposing divides
One of the prominent questions that arise is that when there are already three roads that link Mumbai to Nagpur and when these roads do not have a lot of traffic as well, then do we really need this Superway. The project is seen as one that is creating a divide between ‘India’ which dreams about development and ‘Bharat’ which strives to fulfil its basic requirements and demands.
There is an increasing doubt in the mind of the farmers as to whether this project is proposed to help the transporters and the cargo companies to reduce their expenses and earn a profit in return, or for the purpose of development. These companies have already started purchasing land across the anticipated route of the express way. This doubt has ignited the rich versus poor debate in the state.
The farmers’ dilemma
The farmers who will be losing their land through this development projects will be working as helpers and cleaners in the city and the food courts that will be established by the project. Is this really development for these farmers? The ones who will be truly benefitting from this are the companies which will be involved in the construction of the highway. These companies will earn money through the contracts that will be given to them and then from the toll collection for the next 40 years.
The issue still remains that when on one hand the government is telling the farmers to make their 7/12 papers clear, then why on the other hand, is their fertile land taken away under the banner of a development project. There is nothing incorrect in the construction of 8 lane roads and smart cities but can the debt ridden state really afford its cost of Rs. 46000 crore? Instead of spending such a huge amount on a development project, the state government should utilize it for fulfilling the basic requirements of people.
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