In Nawalgarh, Rajasthan, farmers protest over land acquisition by cement factories

NAWALGARH: Shops downed shutters in Nawalgarh, Jhunjunu district, on Monday as traders expressed complete solidarity with farmers who took out a march through the streets raising slogans protesting the acquisition of land by cement factories. The rally of about 3,000 people on Monday marked six years of continuous dharna outside the office of the tehsildar against the loss of land.

Captain Deep Singh, who has been at the forefront of the protests here, said, “The process of acquisition began in 2006, but farmers were in for a jolt in 2010 when they were informed that they could collect their compensation cheques and move out of their lands.”

Singh explained that although the process had been ongoing for a while, no consent was sought from the villagers who would be affected. Sree Cement, Ultratech, a unit of the Birla group, and India Cement Ltd had sought to acquire 72,000 bighas spread over about 18 villages and settlements. About 45,000 people, settled in these areas for generations, stood to be displaced.

“About a quarter of the lands have already gone through the acquisition process, as some farmers thought fit to just accept what compensation was offered and move out,” Singh said, adding that the lands were not merely a source of livelihood but inextricably linked to the identity of villagers. “We will more readily die than give up our lands!” the marchers shouted during Monday’s rally.

In a memorandum submitted to the tehsildar, villagers said, “Temples, pasture lands, a cremation ground and roads were all made out to Sree Cements by RIICO.” This is an area rich in peacocks, with several khejri trees. The built and natural heritage of the area would be at grave risk from the cement factories, the protesters said.

The rally concluded with a gathering outside the office of the tehsildar, where many leaders of the struggle and those who had arrived from elsewhere to express solidarity with the farmers shared their thoughts.

“Just as POSCO was sent back and Vedanta was not allowed to mine for bauxite in Odisha, the cement factories here too will have to bend to the popular will. Only yesterday, Tata said it would not operate its proposed steel plant in Bastar, Chhattisgarh,” said Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, adding that it was heartening that people were coming together to oppose the acquisition of land. The fruits of peaceful struggles take time coming, she reminded the gathering.

Capt Singh told this reporter that the government had tried all it could to aid the private firms in the acquisition of fertile land – the lands meant for acquisition were shown as barren lands. “We dug out revenue records for about a decade to prove that these lands sustain many crops through the year. The tehsildar then had to admit that our lands were not barren. When the first moves for acquiring our land were made, we did not have as acute a water problem. In 2011, our area was declared part of the ‘dark zone’. How can the government then allow industries to come up here?”

Acquisition of land without the consent of the people is a violation of the Constitution, the protesters said. Traders too joined the march, saying that if the villages nearby were uprooted, their businesses too would suffer irreparable losses.

Bhagirath Shakh, tehsildar, Nawalgarh, told media: “I have received the memorandum and will pass it on to the collector, who will then forward it to higher authorities. These are not decisions that we take at the local level.”

Credits ET Realty

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