Venkataramappa, a 60-year-old farmer, is on his routine visit to see his plot of land in the fringes of Kyathaganacherlu village in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district in Karnataka, around 200 km north of Bengaluru.
He is one of 3,000 farmers who have leased their land for the construction of the 13,000-acre solar park being built in the area which aims to generate 2000 megawatt of power by 2020.
The solar park, once completed, will encompass seven villages in Pavagada taluk - Venkatammanahalli, Kyathaganacherlu, Balasamudra, Rayacherlu, R. Acchammanahalli, Thirumani and Annadanapura - which have a combined population of around 10,000.
However, Pavagada, like the nine other taluks in Tumakuru district, is an arid, drought-prone area. The Karnataka government identified the villages in the taluk as the ideal spot for the solar power generation project but its ambitious plan ran into problems when the farmers in the region refused to give up their land for the project in spite of severe drought and crop loss over the last forty years.
Farmers like Venkataramappa were convinced that giving up their land meant giving up their way of life.
A compromise was struck by the state government after it agreed to lease the land for a period of 28 years instead of buying it from the farmers. The solar park is being built by leasing land for a price of Rs. 21,000 per acre per year and then auctioning it to companies that develop solar power. After 25 years, the state government will either renew the existing land lease agreement or dismantle the panels, a process which could take up to three more years.
However, in Pavagada, farmers who gave away their land for the project are more aggrieved than government officials would like to believe. "This region was once the groundnut bowl of Karnataka. But today, farmers in the region have become alienated from their land. Few farmers with large plots of land are happy with the money paid to them but it is the small farmers who depended on the crops they grew that have been hit the most. Many small farmers gave up their land out of fear because they saw no other alternative after the plots around them were given away for the project," says Venkatesh, an activist with the Safai Karamchari Kavalu Samiti from Balasamudra village in Pavagada.
He believes that the state government exploited the predicament of the farmers in the region.
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