Explained: Why are farmers protesting against Delhi Katra Highway Project


Background

Year 2020, October- The district administration issued a 3rd notification to acquire the required land of 1485-acre in Phillaur, Nakodar and Jalandhar-II Sub Divisions for the Delhi-Katra Express way project. 
The Delhi-Katra Expressway would have around 68 Km length in Jalandhar consisting 29 Kms in Phillaur and Jalandhar-II and 10.09Km in Nakodar.

The project costing over 35,000 crore is estimated to be completed before 2023 and will connect holy places of Amritsar, Katra and Delhi. In addition to this it also passes through Kapurthala and Jalandhar. The project in its essence looks good on paper but when you look at the route map and impact on the stakeholders (ie the people who will give land), the cards start to tumble. 

The Expressway will pass through 11 districts including Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Kapurthala, and Gurdaspur among others, acquiring around 16,000 acre of land – majority of it farm land – which would include land of 35 villages from Jalandhar and 37 villages from Kapurthala.

Problems with the project. 

The farmers believe that for the lands acquired in 2013-14, people were given compensation of around 1-1.5 crore per acre. And now the compensation is mere 9.7 lakh per acre. The farmers under the banner of KIsan Sangarsh committee said, “They are looting our land. With measly compensation and no land in hand, unemployment would increase,”

The inadequate compensation is not the only problem surrounding the infrastructure project. The issue has been ignored by government since the protests started in October 2020. The constant denial of protests led farmers to approach the apex court for their voices to be heard.

Advocate M C Dhingra, appearing for five farmers and ‘Bharat Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’, told a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian that lakhs of poor farmers from Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, whose land was being acquired for the 650-km road project, were agitating in a peaceful manner since January 15 demanding a dialogue for fixing adequate compensation. 

The petitioners said the National Highway Authority Of India (NHAI) had violated the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, to cause wrongful loss to farmers affected by acquisition of their land for the NH project

Another major issue with the project is that it splits the farms into two pieces in many villages leading to issues of irrigation, and new tube wells for the parts. This also introduces the issues of underpasses and over passes which are not mentioned in any of the documents. The farmers believe that NHAI will leave once the highway is complete and these issues will destroy the livelihoods of farmers. Farmers in at least 12 villages face the issue of bifurcation of their farm lands. 

The farmers carried on their peaceful protests since October 2020 and were not even heard until March 2021. The first meeting with Vijay Singla was held after farmers had blocked the patiala highway and were marching towards Captain Amrinder Singh’s house. The farmers were lathicharged after which they decided to set up a Morcha on the patiala Highway. Around 300 farmers had set up tents which were taken off only with the assurance that talks will be held between farmers and govt. The talks with Singla haven’t resulted in any concrete resolution of the issue and farmers led by various farmer groups are still protesting against the construction of highway. 

The latest development in the Highway row has been the meeting of Nakodar Akali MLA Gurpartap Wadala met NHAI chairman Dr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu on 27th March 2021. 

The MLA said Dr Sandhu assured that if the land of the farmers gets bifurcated, they would be provided a right for passage for water from their pump sets on one side of the road to the other side. All link roads and cart roads would also be given underpasses or right of way for maintaining connectivity as before. MLA also said that Sandhu has assured him of fair price to the farmers. 

Farmers meanwhile are strong in their protests and only hope to strengthen their agitation further. Prabdhyal Singh, District president of KSC from Kapurthala, accused the government of playing at the hands of the corporates. “The government recently reduced collector rates so that they can convince the masses that the compensation given to us is sufficient. All this to benefit the corporates. This is done under proper planning. We will not give an inch of our land.”

It remains to be seen if the farmers will be heard and their genuine grievances addressed to carry on the development work without impacting the livelihood of people or will the government continue to live in denial on this issue as well.

 

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