Raipur: Opposition Congress on Monday staged a walkout from Chhattisgarh Assembly demanding return of farmers' lands acquired in 2005 for a proposed steel plant in Bastar district.
Raising the issue in the House, Congress MLAs from Bastar Deepak Baij, Lakheshwar Baghel and Mohan Markan, said the state government has signed several MoUs in a hurry to set up industries in Chhattisgarh and acquired farmers' lands for the purpose.
An MoU was also inked with Tata Steel in 2005 to set up Tata mega steel plant in Lohandiguda region of Bastar. A total 2,044 hectares land from 10 villages - Chhote Paroda, Belar, Bandaji, Kumhali, Chhindgaon, Takraguda, Dhuragaon, Sirisguda, Dabpal and Beliyapal, had been acquired, the legislators said.
Of the 1,709 farmers affected due to the project, compensation was paid to 1,165. The farmers were neither
rehabilitated, nor were they provided benefits under the government schemes like jobs, drought-relief measures,
fertilisers and seeds, Baij said.
"Ten years after acquiring the land, the government has cancelled the prospecting license of Tata for mining and now it seems there is no hope for setting up any plant in the proposed area," Baij said.
Countering the charges, Revenue Minister Prem Prakash Pandey said an area of 1,764.61 hectares of private land was
acquired in 10 villages of Lohandiguda region under the Land Acquisition Act 1894 for setting up Tata integrated steel plant in Bastar, which was lagging behind from the industries development point of view.
Besides, 278.84 hectares of government land was allocated to the industries department for the purpose, the minister said.
A total of 1,707 farmers were affected by the project, of which compensation was paid to 1,165, while 542 farmers did not receive the compensation despite several attempts made by the state government to hand over the compensation amount to them, he said.
The amount of pending compensation cases was deposited at Revenue Deposit fund, he said.
Under the Chhattisgarh Adarsh Punarvas Niti (State's Ideal Rehabilitation Policy, 2005), the affected farmers are
entitled to rehabilitation and resettlement which will be ensured to them during setting up the project. The acquired land is still in the possession of farmers where they are carrying out farming, he said.
Subsequently, Baij asked about the expiry period of the MoU signed between the state government and Tata Steel to
which the minister said there was no time limit framed for it.
Baij said that although farming was being done in the acquired land by the farmers, they are not able to sell their
produce at cooperative societies and even can't get benefits of agriculture schemes as they don't have land ownership.
He further asked whether the government will return the land to farmers "as Tata Steel has virtually packed its bag
from Bastar and not setting up any plant there".
Pandey said, "As per the new land acquisition policy (2013), if the land was not used after taking its possession
for the next five years then it will be returned to the original owner. However, the Chhattisgarh State Industrial
Development Corporation (CSIDC) has acquired the land but it is yet to take its possession and hence, the provision is not applicable here."
Interrupting him, senior Congress legislator and state party chief Bhupesh Baghel said the farmers are facing
challenges in agriculture activities and their livelihood is at risk.
He questioned whether the state government would return the land of those 542 farmers, who did not receive the
compensation and don't want to give their land for the project which is not coming up.
Replying to his query, the minister said, "The entire land was acquired for the CSIDC and the ownership of the land
is in its name. Compensation for the all the farmers was given by the CSIDC to the Revenue Department and two-third of the affected farmers has been provided the compensation.
"The compensation of rest of the farmers is deposited with the Revenue Department and they can come and take it any time. Now it's upon CSIDC to decide what they will do with the acquired land," he added.
Unsatisfied with the minister's reply, the Congress members started sloganeering and accused the government of
"ignoring" the interest of Bastar tribals and staged a walkout from the House demanding to return the land of farmers.