Maharashtra village hits Rs.125 crore jackpot
By Mauli Buch, Chandrapur, Feb 13 : This sleepy, little village tucked away in the lesser known district of Chandrapur in Maharshtra is humming with life as its residents have hit a jackpot -- enhanced compensation for their land acquired by a public sector coal miner.
And happy is their local parliamentarian, Hansraj Ahir, whose persistent efforts have helped the villagers make the windfall gains.
Ahir's intervention has ensured that the local farmers will get Rs.8-10 lakh per acre for their land, against the beggarly Rs.20,000-45,000 per acre which was originally offered by Western Coalfields Ltd (WCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Ltd (CIL).
WCL has decided to acquire 1,700 acres of the village land for its coalmine project.
The Maharashtra cabinet last year had passed a resolution bringing rates of the land to be acquired for coal mining on a par with the rates in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
"However, the entire process took longer than stipulated and hence I had to intervene to get these simple farmers their rights. They will now be paid compensation as per the revised rates approved by the Maharashtra government," Ahir told IANS.
A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha member from the backward Chandrapur district in eastern Maharasthra, Ahir said in 2010 the Chhattisgarh government issued a notification, making it mandatory for CIL and its subsidiaries operating in that state to offer a minimum rate of Rs.6 lakh per acre for fallow land, Rs.8 lakh per acre for rain-fed land and Rs.10 lakh per acre land for irrigated land.
"This did not happen in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, from where the WCL is operating. For the farmers here, it offered only Rs. 20,000-to-Rs.45,000 per acre. We demanded that WCL must offer rates on the lines of Chhattisgarh," he said.
Ahir said he and his party had been fighting for the last decade for an adequate compensation package, including higher per acre rates for land and jobs for the displaced in WCL for the land acquired by it from farmers.
After a long struggle, he said, WCL accepted the demand and the farmers are now elated that their lands will fetch a whopping collective pay off amounting to Rs.125 crore.
"On an average, each farmer is likely to get a handsome Rs 833,000 for his land," Ahir told IANS.
According to Ahir, the land acquisition for coal projects in Maharashtra has been governed by either the vintage Land Acquisition Act or Coal Bearing Areas Act of 1957.
"These Acts are limited by the ready reckoner rates, which provides for very low compensation to the farmers.
"However, the new policy ensures a much better deal for the farmers. As a bonus, WCL will also provide employment to about 700 persons from the Virur Gadegaon village in their mining project," Ahir, who has been in the limelight lately for exposing the coal mines' allocation scam, added.
It was in 2005 that Ahir first raised a finger at the allocations when he was a member of the parliamentary standing committee on coal and steel. Five years later, he managed the support of 19 NDA parliamentarians to seek an audit of "loss" incurred in the coal blocks allocation.
As per a formula worked out, Ahir said that one person from the village would be employed per two acres of land acquired for the mining project by WCL.
Dinkar Derkar, 35, who is a third generation farmer with only three acres of land, was elated by the news.
"I cannot tell you how happy I am to have received this compensation for my land. There sure is a tinge of sadness that my land will be lost to coal mines, but I can finally pay off all my debts and still have something saved for my children's future," Derkar told IANS.
Ahir also confirmed that not only the farmers from Virur-Gadegaon but also thousands of farmers from Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Nagpur districts will gain by way of enhanced compensation for land acquired by WCL.
"Now, the state government has also endorsed the deal," he said.
WCL, however, did not respond to any of the questions put forth by IANS via emails, despite repeated attempts, for its version in the matter.
The MP says similar compensation should be paid to farmers whose land is being acquired in other areas of Vidarbha for manganese and iron deposits by the government or private agencies.
(Mauli Buch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)