No give

Maharashtra villagers fight land acquisition for IT park

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- on march 7, 2006, more than 7,000 residents of Maan, a sleepy village 30 km west of Pune in the Mulshi valley in Maharashtra, fought pitched battles with land survey officials of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (midc) who were accompanied by a police contingent. midc wants to acquire land for an it park, but the villagers are not about to give up their land.

There is an element of dj vu. The villagers recall the first wave of displacement in the valley, which saw thousands of people thrown out of the valley during the construction of the Tata dam in the 1930s. After heroic struggles, the people relocated to Mumbai. Their descendents are the city's celebrated dabbawalla s now.

Now, the Maan villagers are opposing the acquisition of their land for phase iv of the Rajiv Gandhi InfoTech Park at Hinjewadi. Agriculture land in Maan measuring 452 hectares (ha) falls under a special economic zone. The government has already acquired 96 ha (for phase i), 236 ha (phase ii) and 351 ha (phase iii) for the it park. The present move is to acquire 481 ha (29 ha at Hinjewadi, and 452 ha in Maan).

The villagers protested by pelting stones at policemen and government vehicles. The police resorted to a lathi -charge and fired teargas shells. Dnyaneshwar Bodke, member of the Maan Bachao Kriti Samiti, said the villagers would not surrender even an inch of land to midc. "We fear the entire village will be wiped out, along with the sugarcane, paddy, onion, jowar and bajra fields," he said.

After an uneasy calm for two days, midc officials returned on March 9, 2006, but with violent protests continuing, the police resorted to firing, injuring two villagers. But the protests served their purpose for the time being -- midc called off the land survey exercise.

Maan deputy sarpanch Sunil Bharne said the village was united. "The land that the government wants to acquire is irrigated and has 300 houses. It will mean a slow death for us. The village has already lost substantial land for the first three phases of the it park," he added.

Despite police and midc calling off the land survey, villagers are keeping a strict vigil on all approach roads, and at times, even blocking them. The villagers are not willing to buy an assurance from Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Speaking on the sidelines of his high-profile e-agriculture meet at Baramati on March 11, 2006, Pawar had said, "If they want to continue farming, I will ask the government to mark Maan as a green zone. Then we will not allow a single inch to be sold to a builder or anyone else."

Expressing solidarity, Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, said, "As an agriculture minister, it is Pawar's duty to protect the farmers. Development does not mean building modern lake cities like Lavasa or it parks." Lavasa is the country's most ambitious lake city complex coming up in the vicinity of neighbouring Varasgaon dam. She described Pawar's statements as a "threat in the guise of an assurance". Pawar's daughter and son-in-law have acknowledged being involved in the lake city project. Moreover, Pawar's close associates continue to be involved with Lavasa.

"This issue is not confined to Maan alone," says local activist Maruti Bhapkar. "The entire hilly region, dotted with artificial but picturesque dam reservoirs from Lonavla, near Mumbai, to Panhala, near Kolhapur in south Maharashtra, has become a theatre of land grab by the rich and famous of Maharashtra. This is going to have a serious impact on human existence and ecology," he adds.

bjp leader Gopinath Munde recently alleged that six ministers of Maharashtra's Democratic Front government owned about 810 ha in Maan. He dared midc to acquire this land for the park.

Clearly, the imperatives of the development trajectory the state government is plotting does not sit well with the interests of people in rural areas. And as long as the government pushes its pet projects, violent clashes are bound to continue.

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