Farmers Resist Land Grab for Freight Corridor

 [The UPA Government had prepared plans for a massive expansion of the transport sector; which are now being repackaged by the Modi Government. Anticipating a quantum increase in the freight-carrying requirements of the Indian Railways in the coming years, two dedicated freight corridors - eastern and western - were launched by the Ministry of Railways in 2005.

The Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), with a route length of 1856 km, consists of two distinct segments: an electrified double-track segment of 1409 km between Dankuni in West Bengal and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh and an electrified single-track segment of 447 km between Ludhiana (Dhandarikalan)- Khurja-Dadri in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The Western Dedicated Freight Corridor covers a distance of 1504 km of double line electric track from JNPT (Jawahar Lal Nehru port trust) near Mumbai to Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) via Vadodara-Ahmedabad-Palanpur-Phulera-Rewari.

Three different models for funding the EDFC are being used. The EDFC has got a loan worth about 19,000 crores from the World Bank for the Ludhiana-Mughalsarai sector in three phases. The Mughalsarai-Sonnagar section will receive equity of Rs. 3679 crores from the Ministry of Railways while the Sonnagar-Dankuni section will have a Private Public Partnership (PPP) model of funding. The entire Western Corridor is being funded through loan from JICA (Japan International Co-operation Agency). Japan has given a soft loan of INR 38,000 crore for the Western corridor to India to be repaid over a period of 40 years. As per the JICA loan agreement, the lead partner for any project has to be from Japan and 30% of materials should be sourced from Japanese companies. The EDFC loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), a World Bank institution, has a 7-year grace period, and a maturity of 22 years.

According to the World Bank, “Implementing the Dedicated Freight Corridor program will provide India the opportunity to create one of the world’s largest freight operations. The corridor, which will pass through states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, will benefit from the new rail infrastructure, bringing jobs and much-needed development to some of India’s poorest regions”. According to the World Bank, the Government of India is also exploring economic opportunities along the freight corridor and is planning to set up 7 integrated manufacturing clusters using EDFC as the backbone. These clusters will be set up with an investment of about $1 billion on either side of EDFC (no wonder the government is planning to acquire large patches of land on either side of the railway tracks to subsequently give them to private players for manufacturing/warehousing.

To undertake planning & development, mobilization of financial resources and construction, maintenance and operation of the Dedicated Freight Corridors, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL) was set up as a Special Purpose Vehicle under the administrative control of Ministry of Railways. DFCCIL was incorporated in October 2006 under Indian Companies Act 1956.

Irrespective of the claims made by the World Bank about 'the much-needed development in India's poorest regions', we find that this freight corridor is leading to pauperization of the farmers in that region. This report will look at the experiences of farmers whose land has been acquired for EDFC in the Mughalsarai-Sonnagar section.]

A Government of India Gazette regarding the proposed land acquisition in the Mughalsarai-Sonnagar section appeared in the local newspapers on August 2011. About 25 villages lying in Chandauli district were to be affected by the EDFC. These include Rewsa, Rampur, Banauli, Dighi, Chito, Bathi and Naubatpur among others. An estimated 3500 people would be directly affected by the land acquisition.

The Additional District Magistrate (ADM) - Revenue/ Finance of district Chandauli where this section lies, was appointed as the representative officer by the Ministry of Railways to initiate the land acquisition process on behalf of DFCCIL. A period of 30 days was granted to the affected farmers to represent their case before the ADM. 566 representations were received from the farmers. They were told by the ADM that the rate of the land to be acquired would be fixed according to the guidelines of Railway Amendment Act (RAA) 2008 and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (NRRP) 2007. Incidentally, the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 replaces the NRRP 2007. Further, the ADM, citing a circular of the Ministry of Railways (E(NG) 11/2010/R.C.5/1) dated August 2010 declared that one member of the affected family would be provided a job by the Railways.

The ADM issued an official order in November 2011 which promised: (1) Compensation for land to be provided at market rate or circle rate (whichever is higher) (2) Compensation for house to be provided at PWD rate and (3) One member of the affected family would be given a Railway job. Thereafter began the official game of deceit and allurement. The farmers were given a paltry sum for their lost land with the allurement that they should accept the Government cheques since those would be used to identify the bona fide farmers whose family members would be given railway jobs. The farmers were more interested to get a permanent Railway job and hence readily accepted the cheques. The farmers were paid an average of Rs. 25,000 for one bissa (about 1360 square feet) of land lying barely 100 metres away from the National Highway 2 which joins Delhi with Kolkata. The market rate there was at least 5-10 times higher. After getting the compensation, the affected farmers requested for jobs to the East Central Railway under whose jurisdiction the Mughalsarai and Sonpur divisions lie. The East Central Railway's irresponsible and illegal reply to an affected farmer was - ''Your land has not been acquired by East Central Railway. Your land seems to have been acquired by DDFCIL which is an independent entity not under the jurisdiction and administrative control of EC railway. The ministry circular (E(NG) 11/2010/R.C.5/1) covers those cases in which the land has been acquired under the projects of EC Railway." So the hapless farmer becomes the football in a game played by two entities of Indian railways - EC Railway and DDFCIL.

Initially, the farmers of these villages were organized under the banner of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti in which some fractions of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) were also present. This Samiti relied exclusively on legal options and helped the farmers file cases in the local courts against the Railways. Gradually the farmers were fed up with the legal-ritualistic practice of the Samiti and started to explore new options for addressing their grievances.

All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM) and CPI(ML) sent fact-finding teams to visit the affected villages in early January, 2016. A Bhumi Adhikar Sammelan (Land Right Convention) was organized at the Chandauli district head quarter on 30th June, 2016. About 400 people from the affected villages participated in the Convention which was followed by a militant march to the DM's office. A 55 member Kisan Sangarsh Parishad was formed to steer the movement. The Parishad decided to hold awareness campaign among the farmers during 6-18 February. This was an important initiative because till then, only those families whose land was acquired were active in the movement while the remaining villagers were mute spectators as they felt no imminent threat to their land.

The Parishad organized mass meetings in 6 villages and burnt the effigy of the Freight corridor. A march was organized in Chandauli on 25th February after which an indefinite dharna started at one of the affected village, Chito. The enthused farmers stopped the ongoing construction work at many sites in the district. The farmers burnt the effigy of the district administration on 3rd March as no official bothered to visit the dharna even after a week. The very next day, the ADM, Railway officials and the police reached the dharna spot and started intimidating the people there by ordering that the dharna be videotaped to identify participants.

The protesters resisted the pressure tactics of the officials and showed them the 2011 order of the ADM that promised railway jobs. The officials had no satisfactory reply and beat a hasty retreat. The protesters gained confidence. Other farmers, who were reluctant to join initially, also stated supporting the movement. To convert the freight corridor into a corridor of farmers’ solidarity, a team from Chandauli district visited the adjacent Durgawati block in Bihar where similar land acquisition has taken place for the Mughalsarai-Sonnagar section. Farmers there were very enthused to see the team from Chandauli and assured them their support in the movement.

To give a wider dimension to the on-going movement in Chandauli, it was decided to hold a farmers’ convention against the illegal land grab. On 3rd April, a convention was organised at the Dharna site at Chito village in which the chief guest was Comrade Raja Ram Singh, the general secretary of AIKM. Comrade Ishwari Prasad, the Uttar Pradesh state secretary of AIKM was also present. About 50 farmers from the Durgawati block in Bihar also participated in the convention. Addressing the convention, Comrade Raja Ram called upon farmers to agitate and prevent construction of the railway track till the Government kept its promise of providing adequate compensation and a job. He urged the farmers to build a broader unity with the rural workers to thwart the anti-poor policies of the Modi government. Accusing the Samajwadi Party of turning a deaf ear to the plight of the farmers, he said that all the high sounding talk of development only favoured the rich while the farmers are being forced out of their livelihood by land acquisition.

The convention proceedings were conducted by Com. Shashi Kant Singh, the Chandauli district secretary of AIKM. The vote of thanks was given by Com. Kismat Yadav, the convener of the Kisan Sangarsh Parishad, which is spearheading the movement.

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