Sitting on a chair inside a mud pit in Nindar village on Jaipur’s outskirts, octogenarian Nathi Devi, with a stick in her hand, says, “I have seen seven generations of my family live here. I won’t vacate the land for anyone.”
Standing chest-deep in a pit near her is Mangilal Kumawat, 40, a farmer, who says he is ready to stay there until the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) stops coming after their land.
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For the fourth day in a row, 22 men and about 35 women have buried themselves in pits in Nindar village, protesting against the JDA’s effort to acquire about 1,300 bighas land for a housing project. Of the 1,300 bighas, farmers have already surrendered 282 bighas over the years, 166 bighas already belong to JDA and over 100 bighas are part of temple areas. That accounts for over 500 bighas — JDA commissioner Vaibhav Galriya says it already has 571 bighas — and about 700 bighas more remains to be acquired.
“The agitation started about 18 days ago, when JDA came with JCB machines and trucks to start construction of a road. They had only started building it but we chased them away,” farmer Mangilal says, “In protest, we sat on a relay fast, and threw our milk and produce of vegetables and grains on the Jaipur-Sikar road. But the JDA remained unrelenting as ever. So we had to take up this protest.”
While the men stand in individual pits, the women share pits dug in rows. Several more men and women are on standby, who fill a position immediately if it is vacated for health reasons, for rest or for meals.
“It is very fertile land, we have supplied vegetables — especially okra — to Jaipur for generations, but the JDA wants to take our land from us,” says Shishpal Sharma.
“Our main concern is that JDA has said it will acquire our land here, and will give us 25% of the area elsewhere,” said Jeevraj Kumawat, 35. “They misled us in 2010. They did a survey claiming it is for the Bisalpur pipeline, but they were actually planning to evict us for a housing project,” he adds. “Our father was one of four brothers and together they had 3.5 bighas. If the JDA goes ahead, this land will be divided again among their 10 children, who include me, and then our children, some of whom are adults. So if the division happens, we will get very little. We just don’t have any land to give them.”
As for why only 25% land elsewhere is being offered against their land in Nindar, the farmers say the remaining will be included as “development charges” for the colony where they are resettled. “And this land will be allotted to those in government, people in high places,” alleges Mangilal.
The JDA commissioner, however, told The Indian Express that it is “false information that is being propagated. We have already told them — and there is a government order too — that if land is acquired, the compensatory land should be given in the same scheme”. He agreed, however, that the land given will be 25% of the land acquired.
Most farmers live as large families on plots of land that, they say, are less than enough. For example, the family of Manbhari Devi, a widow, has 1.5 bighas for her four sons and eight grandsons. “When the land is divided, I will also count my two daughters. But either way, there will be too little left for us. On top of that, if we are relocated, we will hardly have a home for each of us, while now we are comfortable,” she says.
Chhota Devi, who is over 70, says her family has about 25 people living on one bigha and faces the same problem.
“The JDA’s acquisition process started in November 2010 and the farmers have been protesting since then,” said Nagendra Singh Shekhawat, 40, convener of Nindar Bachao Yuva Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, which is leading the farmer protests. He says the JDA’s move will affect about 5,000 families in Nindar.
Nagendra Singh Shekhawat, who is also a state secretary of the Vichar Vibhag of the Congress in Rajasthan, rues the party’s “indifference” to the issue so far. “The campaign is beyond party lines,” says Nagendra Singh Shekhawat, who has a PhD in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, is a former president of Rajasthan University Students’ Union, and polled only 1% when he contested the Vidhyadhar Nagar assembly seat as an independent candidate in 2013.
He says the land fulfils the criteria for restarting the acquisition formalities, under The Land Acquisition Act 2014. Until Thursday, a farmer delegation led by him had held three rounds of talks with JDA officials, mainly seeking a fresh survey. “A separate report should be made on the minimum requirements of each family while another should detail the damage to their homes. Most importantly, the financial situation of each family and the impact of acquisition should be considered before they proceed with anything,” he says.
While JDA officials have sought time to consider the demands, Nagendra Singh Shekhawat says that the protest “will go on till there are substantial results”.