The ghost of Bhatta-Parsaul may return to haunt India's F1 debut

As preparations at the Budh International Race Circuit to host India's first Formula One race on 30 October reach fever pitch, a rally of another kind is gathering speed in the troubled fields that surround it. Chief Minister Mayawati's misadventure with agitating farmers earlier this year is still fresh in people's minds, thanks to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's bike ride to the villages that witnessed a violent crackdown by the state.

Five months on, there is talk among farmers in villages surrounding the race track of a repeat of the 'Bhatta-Parsaul incident' (the epicentre of the last agitation that ended in police firing).

On Sunday (2 October), farmers from 10 villages — whose land was acquired to build the 5.14 km Budh International Race Track, situated in Uttar Pradesh's Gautam Budh Nagar district along the Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway — held a panchayat, in which they decided to launch an agitation a week before the international sporting event starts.

 The ghost of Bhatta-Parsaul may return to haunt Indias F1 debut

The Budh International Race Circuit located in UP's Gautam Budh Nagar district. Image courtesy Naresh Sharma

The land on which the F1 track is located is part of a special development zone for which 1,000 hectares was acquired by the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA).

Speaking about their demands, farmer leader Virendra Dada said, "Farmers are not against development nor are they against F1. But the agreement was that 7 percent of the land would be developed and returned by the government to the farmers whose land was acquired for the race track. That has not happened even after four years. If demands are not met, not just these 10 villages, but all villages that fall under the YEIDA will join our protest. And farmer organisations, such as Rashtriya Kisan unions, Kishan Sabha, will also join us."

A young farmer, Suvan, who organised the panchayat on Sunday in Atta Gujran village, said that farmers would a hold a series of nukkad meetings to chalk out their plan of action. "On the 23rd, farmers from many more villages will join us for the agitation. We will gherao the venue, if need be," he said.

"There are about 700 farmers whose land was acquired for the F1 track. The acquisition was made four years ago. At that time, we were given a compensation of Rs 800 per square metre. The current value of land is anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 45,000 per square metre,” added Suvan. Sixty bighas of Suman's family land was acquired.

The simmering anger against the government has been compounded by restrictions on the movements of farmers living in the surrounding villages. Barbed wire fences have come up along the boundary of villages, allowing only one entry and exit point for each village. Farmers are having to negotiate much longer distances on foot to reach their destinations.

See slideshow on the farmers agitation

"We will not be able to send our girls to school anymore. The 3 km distance to the high school in Dankaur is now 15 km because the paths have been blocked. The farmers will not feel safe sending their daughters. Why can't they build us schools here or start a factory so that our children can earn a living. They've taken our land. But what development have they brought us?" said a village head man, Bishambir Singh. Visibly distraught, he added, "They are turning our villages into jails. They are walling us in. They have blocked paths between villages. What do we do? We know that their forces far outnumber us. What happened in Bhatta-Parsaul will happen here. We will get killed. But we have no choice but to fight against this injustice."

The SSP of the Gautam Budh Nagar, Jyoti Narayan, didn't rule out possibility of farmer groups trying to disrupt the event. "It all depends on the Allahabad High Court judgment. That will decide the mood. There are, however, some elements that might try to disrupt the event. There are many small farmer groups — each with their specific demands. The concerned authorities are looking into it," he said. (The SSP's reference here is to the petitions filed in the Allahabad High Court by farmers from 40-odd villages in Gautam Budh Nagar demanding that land acquired by the government by invoking the 'emergency clause' of the Land Acquisition Act be quashed.)

According to Suvan, farmers belonging to the village of Gungpura (one of the villages whose land was acquired for the F1 track) are among those who have filed petitions in the High Court.

Choosing a conciliatory tone, District Magistrate Hridesh Kumar said it was only a matter of time before the farmers' demands were met. "The farmers, whose land was acquired to build the F1 track, were promised that 7 percent of their land would be developed and given back to them. That is a promise made by the YEIDA and they will definitely abide by it. It is only a matter of time. And if farmers have problems, we will talk to them." Explaining the delay in allotment, he said, "The sectors are not yet fully developed. Once the roads are laid and sectors developed, the farmers will be given their plots."

Is it any surprise that India's debut F1 race has become as much about politics as it is about sport.

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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2011 20:27:41 IST