Dedicated freight corridor project to speed up Betul farmers plunge into penury

Dedicated freight corridor project to speed up Betul farmers plunge into penury

Dedicated freight corridor project to speed up Betul farmers plunge into penury

They fear farmlands will be acquired for the North-South Sub Corridor for compensation amounts that will not be sufficient to buy land elsewhere

 

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: “They came twice to examine my land. First, they used drones to survey the fields. Now they are back to assess soil strength. I am worried.”

Laxman Yadav (62) of Barsali village in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh lives in constant fear of losing his 10.5 acres of land to the Central government’s proposed Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs), the biggest project undertaken so far under the railway infrastructure to speed up freight movement across the country. The 975-km North-South Sub Corridor on Vijayawada-Nagpur-Itarsi line will pass through Amla, Betul and Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh.

If things go as planned, Yadav will be left with only three-and-a-half acres of his farmland, that too in two pieces on either side of the corridor. Once the project is complete, he will perhaps not have access to the second piece. In short, Yadav will mostly end up as a landless person, a situation that he and his two married sons cannot imagine.

Yadav is not happy with the government compensation. He cites the case of Shivcharan Chauhan, a fellow farmer, to make his point. “Two rail lines already pass through our village. A third line is being built, for which Chauhan’s 10 decimal land was acquired recently by paying a compensation of Rs 64,000. By that standard, I am likely to get a minimum compensation of Rs 6 to 7 lakh per acre, which is very low in today's scenario.”

Yadav cites examples of how land rates have increased manifold. “Budhrao and Baburao Satankar's two acres of land with no irrigation facility was sold for Rs 26 lakh four months ago. How will I buy even an acre of land if the compensation amount is this meagre?”

People in as many as 88 villages in Betul district will be affected if the project becomes a reality, with some not having even an inch of land left after acquisition. However, no official data is available on the possible volume of land acquisition.


Laxman Yadav of Barsali village in Betul lives in fear of losing at least two-thirds of his 10.5 acre land to the proposed railway line, which will further divide what's remaining into two parts (Photos - Pooja Yadav) 


Not consulted, say farmers

The Detailed Project Report (DPR) primarily assesses a project’s technical feasibility, growth potential and other factors to arrive at an investment decision. To begin with, M/s Centre for Management and Social Research was appointed as the project consultant to conduct a social impact assessment and socio-economic baseline study of the project affected persons. This should have happened between May and September last. 

Farmers, however, claim neither the Railways nor the consultancy firm held discussions or meetings regarding land acquisition. “Even the local administration did not call us for talks on their behalf,” they said in unison.

Two months ago, when informed about the proposed land acquisition citing June 19, 2022, letter from the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India to district Collector Amanbir Singh Bains, the farmers held a meeting under the banner of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and demanded that the corridor be built adjacent to the existing railway track.

“The Railways already has a lot of acquired vacant land adjacent to the existing track. Despite this, the freight corridor is proposed at a distance of 400 m or more from the existing line,” said farmer Mahesh Yadav.

“One fine day almost two years ago, some people entered our plots without any prior intimation and started digging up the place. When confronted, they said they were here to check soil strength for the freight corridor project. They also told us that the corridor will be built separately from the existing rail line,” said Barsali panchayat sarpanch Rajendra alias Bablu Yadav, who will lose around two acres of farmland to acquisition.

No information was forthcoming from the construction department of Nagpur Railway Division (Betul comes under its jurisdiction) about when the DPR details would be made public.

However, a few Railway officials told 101Reporters on condition of anonymity that the consultancy firm should take the farmers into confidence. Instead, the details of its work have not been made public fearing protests. “In fact, local administration’s help has been enlisted to suppress any possible agitation.”   

Meanwhile, tehsildar Prabhat Mishra clarified that claims and objections would be invited from the farmers whenever their turn of land acquisition came and their problems would be amicably resolved.

The existing railway track passing through the tribal settlement of Tappadhana, Betul (Photo - Pooja Yadav)

Land for land demand

Jagdish Bharti, a farmer from Badora gram panchayat who leads BKS activities in the region, will lose eight of his total 12 acres to the proposed corridor. “Our forefathers owned several acres of land, which were passed on to the next generations. However, as the families grew bigger, people were left with only small pieces of land. If these pieces are also acquired, farmers will become landless. That is why we want the government to buy land in exchange for land.”

A land affairs expert and convenor of the struggle committee on the proposed Chutka nuclear power plant project, Rajkumar Sinha told 101Reporters that the government would not take such a risk. “The compensation provided for rail acquisitions is way too lower than the current market prices. Yet, the affected farmers are not able to buy new plots as land prices have increased manifold,” he said.

Sinha also suggested that the freight corridor should be built near the existing railway track to prevent landlessness. “If they do acquire land at their convenience, it will have far-reaching adverse effects on the society, both economically and socially, in the years to come.”

Rajeev Khandelwal, a tax consultant who works for social causes in Betul district, agreed that land was the only resource present with farmers, and it should not be snatched away from them. “If farmers are not doing well, it will surely have an adverse effect on the society,” he warned.

Senior journalist Lakshminarayan Sahu noted that the compensation amount would serve only one generation, thanks to the rising inflation. “However, land is such an asset that will continue to serve several generations,” he pointed out.

Maybe farmers like Montu Verma, who is likely to lose the whole of his seven acres of land, know it better.


Cover Photo: A map on the DFCCI website that indicates the proposed North-South Sub Corridor between Vijayawada and Itarsi

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli

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