'Give us right compensation': K’taka farmers on strike against NH 206 widening

Karnataka farmers say that the Centre is paying them a pittance for compensation and that the project will disrupt three eco-sensitive zones.
'Give us right compensation': K’taka farmers on strike against NH 206 widening
'Give us right compensation': K’taka farmers on strike against NH 206 widening
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Over a fortnight ago, 40-year-old Shivanna, a farmer from Kammagondanahalli in Karnataka’s Tumakuru district was going about his daily routine when he noticed an earth mover bulldozing its way into his farm.

The contractor in-charge of the widening of NH 206 had sent his workers to mow down the four-acre plot he owns in order to begin construction. Just before the earth mover could touch the first coconut tree demarcating his land, Shivanna stood between the vehicle and the tree, and refused to budge.

“How dare you come here and think you can usurp my land. Ask the government to send me my money first or give me another plot of land. Then I will allow you to mow down my precious trees,” Shivanna said.

Just like Shivanna, hundreds of farmers in Tumakuru, Hassan, Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga districts are about to lose their land for the Union government’s ambitious project to convert NH 206 into a four-lane drive. The National Highways Authority of India (NHA) has taken up the widening of NH 206 along a 215-km stretch, which passes through Tumakuru district’s Tumakuru town, Gubbi, Tiptur and Arsikere, Shivamogga, and Kadur and Tarikere areas in Hassan district.

 Farmers in these regions allege that the government is refusing to pay them the market value for the land they are about to lose. Since January 11, over 150 farmers from these districts have launched an indefinite strike against the government’s decision to go ahead with the project by offering them a “pittance” in return for their land. The farmers have camped outside the Assistant Commissioner of Tiptur’s office and are demanding to meet the NHAI officials.

“More than 80% of the properties they are acquiring is agricultural land. The NHAI is violating laws and not paying us the right amount of money for our land. I own three acres and 10 guntas of land. The central government is saying it will pay me only Rs 5,000 per gunta. I will be getting Rs 1.5 lakh for my land. My family’s livelihood depends on the vegetables and millets we grow. I will not be able to buy even a few guntas of land with this money elsewhere,” says 43-year-old Manohar, a farmer from Tiptur.

Manohar has spent Rs 13 lakh to install borewells on his land and says that the market value for his land is Rs 2 lakh per gunta.

“I own a coconut farm and I also grow areca nuts and vegetables. My family and I have lived happily until now. We will lose everything and will be left in lurch if we do not get compensation. We are not saying that we are opposed to the project. But we need to be able to buy land elsewhere. Either the government gives us the right amount or allot other agricultural land for us,” Shivanna says.

It has been seven days since the farmers began their indefinite strike. The disgruntled farmers have set up a camp along the footpath outside the AC’s office and are even cooking meals and sleeping at the protest venue. Protestors say that they will not allow a single earth mover to begin work until they are rightly compensated.

Speaking to TNM, Yashoda, the land acquisition officer appointed for the project says that the Centre has fixed the rates in compliance with the Land Acquisition Act 2013. “We have taken the average market value of the land for the year 2016, since that’s when the project was announced. The land value varies from place to place and if notifications have been issued incorrectly, it will be rectified. If the farmers have any problem with the rates, they can approach the court and appeal,” Yashoda added.

Farmers also allege that the NHAI did not conduct an environmental impact assessment and that the new alignment of the highway will cut across three eco-sensitive areas. Farmers also say that if the project is implemented, the man-animal conflict in the region will increase.

“The elephant corridor in Tumakuru will be disrupted. Chowdalapura and Konanakavalu forests in Tiptur and the Bukkapattana forest in Gubbi will be affected. Since environment impact assessment was not done, the government has not even counted the number of trees they will cut down. There is a lot of man-animal conflict in Tumakuru district and several leopards, foxes, snakes and elephants have died. If this road comes in the forest area, there will be increased threat,” Manohar adds.

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