With no compensation in sight, farmers are not even able to sell their land nor invest in farming due to the uncertainty surrounding the project.

Telanganas Pharma City Botched up land acquisition in an uncertain project
news Pharma City Project Monday, October 01, 2018 - 10:34
At Medipally village of Yacharam mandal, most farmers have reason to be miffed at the proposed Pharma City project as theirs was the first mandal where the land acquisition for the project started in 2015. The state government initiated the process before the project could even receive an Environmental Clearance (EC). The project received its EC only in September 2018, thereby making the entire land acquisition process illegal, say the villagers. 
 
At that time the nation was debating on the ordinance by the NDA government on the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR Act) 2013. The ordinance made land acquisition easier for five categories of projects and diluted the criteria for calculating compensations. The ordinance lapsed in 2015 but in 2017, the Telangana government along with Maharashtra and Jharkhand amended the LARR Act to incorporate provisions of the lapsed LARR ordinance.
 
Under the LARR Act, a mandatory Social Impact Assessment had to be done before the land acquisition and also land could be acquired only if a majority: 70-80% of the affected people agree to the project.  But by incorporating the provisions of a lapsed ordinance these two major sections were done away with. 
 
Initially, the officials told the Medipally villagers to give up their assigned land. Many of the villagers agreed to a compensation of Rs 7.7 lakh per acre, a figure based on the official market value of land registration and the revenue generated by the mandal in 2015.
 
Under the LAAR of 2013, compensation should be three times the market value for rural agricultural lands. For assigned lands they paid Rs 7.7 lakh per acre and patta lands Rs 12.5 lakh per acre. However, as per the High court orders in the case of Mekala Pandu vs Govt. of AP, both assigned lands and patta lands should receive the same compensation. 
 
But that was not all, in Utlapalli village of Kandukur mandal, the official land registration value was Rs 7.5 lakh per acre since April 2013. However, in 2015 the farmers there were paid Rs 7.7 lakh per acre for assigned and Rs 12.5 lakh per acre for patta lands, as elsewhere. Now, two years later, they are offering Rs 22.5 lakh per acre in the same village. But as per LARR Act, they should have received 22.5 lakhs per acre even in 2015.  
 
“This is a clear case of cheating by the authorities”, says K Saraswathi, a documentary filmmaker turned farmer. “There is no uniformity either in the process or in the compensation amounts. Also at first, the officials promised farmers that they will acquire only assigned lands, now they are asking for patta lands as well,” she adds.
 
Gaura Venkatesh a cotton farmer from Medipally village, had to part with his assigned land, but the compensation has not come even after two years. Now the government is asking for his patta land for Rs 12.5 lakh per acre. However, Venkatesh and many others in his village have refused to part with their patta lands. 
 
Fight to protect lands
 
Now, under the LARR Act, if the proposed acquisition is not completed 12 months from the date of notification of the land acquisition, that government notification lapses. This section of the law has empowered the villagers. They have now approached the High Court to get the Notification for patta lands scrapped. 
 
“What the officials are doing is not legal and they are behaving like real estate brokers,” says Saraswathi.K, who is helping the villagers to receive legal advice.
 
The Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) was held only at Medipally in October 2017, for the entire project area of the Pharma City project and that ended up with 50 villagers being taken into preventive custody.
 
“Most of the people who attended that meeting were outsiders,” alleges Saraswathi. “Refer to the EPH minutes of the meeting to know who all spoke at the meeting. Barring two people including myself, rest were all outsiders including industrialists and politicians – out of which the majority spoke in favour of the project. The villagers were taken into custody for asking the outsiders to leave the meeting. The EPH minutes also does not reflect what some of the scientists actually spoke… details of what I spoke at the meeting are also not part of the minutes,” she adds.
 
Real estate limbo
 
Farmers whose land survey numbers find a mention in the project have been left in the lurch. Two years after the initial acquisition and no proper compensation in sight for many, they are unable to neither sell their land to any third party nor invest in farming due to the uncertainty surrounding the project. The farmers say government officials refuse to accept land registrations for survey numbers that come under the project. Meanwhile, the real estate prices of surrounding lands that do not come under the project have since shot up.
 
“While I am unable to sell or do anything on the land, the real estate rates for my neighbour’s land have shot up,” says Ganesh. “They are offering Rs 12.5 lakh per acre for patta lands. But in neighbouring villages farmlands are now priced at Rs 25 to Rs 30 lakh per acre. Five kilometres away the land rates have touched Rs 1 crore. We will never be able to afford even 200 square yards anywhere with the compensation they are offering,” he adds.
 
Buchiyaa belonging to the SC community along with 150 members of his family together owns 20 acres of assigned land that they had surrendered to the government. Two years later with no compensation received yet, the family tore down the fences put in place by the government officials and reclaimed their land. “I told the MRO that if they try to step in our land, I will break his legs,” says an angry Buchiyaa. “They are giving us compensation for only 7 acres out of the 20 acres reasoning that the rest 13 acres are not being cultivated,” he explains. “But there is a high court directive which states that as long as the land is being used, full compensation should be paid, whether it is being tilled or not”, says Saraswathi.
 
TNM called up officials of the revenue department and collector’s office; all the officials were new to their posts and responded along similar lines. 
 
“I just took charge a few weeks back and don’t know the exact details,” says Amarendar, the newly appointed Land Acquisition Officer for the Pharma City project with the revenue department. “We are following due process and the rules as per the Land Acquisition Act 2013. At the moment we are busy with election rolls so have not found time to go through the files yet,” he adds.
 
The farmers are “lying”
 
The Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (TSIIC), the arm of the state government tasked with execution of the project, already has a 1,54,882-acre land bank for promoting manufacturing in the state. The corporation was to undertake awareness programmes about the project at the ground level and prepare a project report detailing how many companies will set up their factories. But this report has not yet come out. Right to information (RTI) filings requesting for a copy of the project report also did not receive a positive response.
 
When asked about the compensation, land acquisition and the farmers’ predicament, EV Narasimha Reddy, TSIIC’s Vice Chairman and Managing Director, said that the farmers whose land was acquired by the state government for the project are “lying”.
 
“Check with the officials, we have given Rs 400 crore as compensation for the first lot of land acquisitions. The farmers are lying when they say they have not received compensation,” claimed Reddy. However, not all farmers have received their compensation.
 
When quizzed about how land acquisition for the project was done without an Environmental Clearance, the official dodged the question.
 
When pointed out that government officials are going ahead with land acquisition without following due process, the official responded by saying, “We have held Environmental Public Hearing, even arranging buses for the people to attend the meeting. We held one Hearing for the whole project and no more hearings will be held.” The official then added that all land acquisition related matters are taken care of by the district collector and that TSIIC only implements the project.
 
“There are about 200-250 companies that will set up factories in Pharma City, we will start the implementation of the project soon,” says Reddy, who claimed that TSIIC has already done a Social Impact Assessment of the project area and also prepared a detailed project report. “It’s available on our website,” he added. However, no such documents are available on the TSIIC official website.
 
“If such documents exist, as per law they should be made available in Telugu for the villagers to understand. Why didn’t they do it?” questions Saraswathi, adding that even an RTI was filed with the TSIIC seeking the reports but they did not provide the reports so far.
 


Also Read: Telangana farmers learn about rights to reclaim land given up for Pharma City 3 yrs ago

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