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A Singur in the making in Uttar Pradesh
Published on 7 Jan. 2010 10:26 PM IST
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The farming community here is up in arms against the government’s reported moves to take over farmland for a railway freight corridor, making a villain of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee who ironically led a similar movement in her home state not long ago. With the farmers refusing to compromise under any circumstances, political parties and social activists have come out in their support. The issue has even figured in parliament. Activists say there is widespread anger in the area known as a rice bowl. “Despite an announcement by the railway minister that no land will be forcefully acquired from farmers, the administration has pasted notices on the Gram Pradhan’s office in Chatem, Chari and other villages,” Kameshwar Nath Mishra, counsel for NGOs Krishi Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBBSS) and Satya Foundation, told IANS. This, he said, happened after the farmers denied accepting the notice and chased officials out of their villages. “When we contacted the administration in Chandauli, they denied having any official instruction from the railway ministry to stop the acquisition of land,” Mishra added. Farmers say that what is being sought to be seized from them is fertile land which they have held for generations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has warned Mamata Banerjee not to create circumstances that could turn Chandauli into a Singur. Singur in West Bengal is where Tata Motors acquired 1,000 acres of agriculture land to set up the Nano car project. It was shifted to Gujarat after violent protests in which Mamata Banerjee played a key role. “Even after your public announcement that no agricultural land will be forcibly taken for any railway project, the administration in Chandauli continues to serve notices to the farmers in nearly 30 villages,” the BJP said in a letter to the minister. “The situation in the villages has turned volatile... Any forcible acquisition of land will further agitate the farmers,” the letter said. It all started in March last year when the farmers first learnt of the railway’s ambitious dedicated freight corridor, aimed at accelerating the movement of raw materials and finished products across the country. NGOs KBBSS and Satya Foundation were the first to voice their support to the aggrieved farmers. Since then, protests have gained momentum. On Oct 23, the farmers held a massive demonstration in Chaudauli town against the reported acquisition of land. As protests escalated, politicians jumped into the fray. The Samajwadi Party has warned of “bloodbath” if the farmers were wronged. The most vocal voice against Mamata Banerjee is that of the Communist of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which is determined to avenge the humiliation it suffered at her hands in Singur. The CPI-M has asked its Uttar Pradesh unit to launch “a massive agitation” in Chandauli. Of late, however, the local administration has denied initiating any kind of process aimed at taking over farmland. But there is hardly anyone here who believes this. Satya Foundation’s Chetan Upadhyaya told IANS: “It is surprising that the government is not using railway land encroached by people. Instead, it wants to take away fertile land.” “If farmers in Chandauli are happy with agriculture, why is the government trying to woo them with jobs and compensation?” asked Nirmal Yadav, a farmer from Ganjkhawaja Basmi village. Even Congress leader Digvijay Singh has written to Mamata Banerjee, arguing that the freight corridor can be easily built on the land parallel to the existing rail track. “Agriculture is the heart beat of India. If there is no agriculture, no freight corridor will be actually needed,” Upadhyaya said. Farmers agree.

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