Lucknow: A large number of villagers, mostly farmers, have been agitating against the expansion of the Azamgarh airport for the past three months. They are apprehensive that the government will acquire nearly 4,000 houses in eight villages for the project.
Agitating villagers are claiming that because of the project, nearly 25,000 people will be displaced and lose their livelihoods.
According to the villagers, they learned about the airport expansion plan through media reports. The reports suggest that the government has planned to expand the Manduri Azamgarh airstrip under the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) scheme. For the expansion of the currently dysfunctional airport, there is also a proposal for the acquisition of land, for which a survey has reportedly been completed.
Rajiv Yadav, one of the leaders of the agitation, told The Wire that as per the plan, 360 acres of land will be acquired in the first phase and 310 acres will be acquired in the second phase.
The situation turned volatile on the intervening night of October 12-13, when a team from the local administration and provincial armed constabulary (PAC) entered Jamuwa Hariram village for the survey.
They allegedly locked the villagers inside their houses and “beat up women who resisted the survey”, says Yadav.
Subsequently, on the following day, October 13, villagers of several hamlets, including Hasanpur, Kadipur Harikesh, Jamua Hariram, Jamua Jolha, Gadanpur Chindan Patti, Madurai Jigina Karampur and Jehra Pipri, gathered and launched an agitation against the proposed land acquisition at the Khiriya Bagh area of Azamgarh.
Annoyed villagers have named their agitation the “Makan Bachao Khet Bachao” movement. Villagers categorically announced at the onset of their agitation that “We will die but will not give up land”.
Another leader of the agitation, Ramnayan Yadav, told The Wire that when the villagers went to meet the district magistrate, he informed the agitating villagers that the administration surveyed the land using drones and Khatauni records (a document that carries information relating to land for cultivation and about its owner, mainly in rural areas).
However, Ramnayan has raised objections to the survey, as he says, “In the Land Acquisition Act 2013, there is no such provision to survey by drone or Khatauni.”
Ramnayan also expressed apprehension that the government would acquire their fertile land and hand it over to the corporate sector. He also claimed that most of the population of the villages is either Dalit or OBC.
The villagers also claimed that Dinesh Lal Yadav, alias Nirahua, a Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarian, allegedly threatened them. Rajiv and Ramnayan both alleged that on November 19, Azamgarh MP Nirahua threatened the agitating villagers during a public gathering in the Mubarakpur area.
The BJP MP allegedly said, “The lone reason Azamgarh remains backward is that its people here are out of hand.” If the district has to progress, then first such a trend needs to be stopped. “Those who are out of control, either send them to jail, break their knees, or kill them,” he allegedly continued.
When contacted, administrative officials confirmed they had carried out the survey. Vishal Bhardwaj, the district magistrate, told The Wire that the airport project is in its preliminary stages.
The DM went on to say that a survey has been carried out by the administration but further decisions will be taken by the government. “The administration will follow all the provisions of the land acquisition law,” he said. He also added injustice will not be done to anyone.
Several prominent farmers’ leaders and social workers, including Rakesh Tikait, Medha Patkar and Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey, visited Azamgarh in support of the aggrieved villagers.
Addressing the gathering of villagers, farmers’ leader Tikait said, “If the farmers won’t agree to sell their land, nobody can acquire it forcibly.”
Tikait promised the farmers of Azamgarh that if the administration forcibly took their land, he would join the protest.
Patkar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements said the government, as well as the administration, were violating provisions of the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, According to her, as per law, the administration should have the consent of 80% of landowners before acquiring any area.
Leaders of the protest alleged that the local administration is persistently mounting pressure on them to call off their protest.
Rajiv Yadav said that the police detained him and Sandeep Pandey while they were going on a “padayatra” in support of agitating farmers, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi to Azamgarh.
While talking to The Wire, Rajiv alleged he was “abducted by plain-clothes policemen on December 24, while he was on his way to Azamgarh from Varanasi.”
“Policemen took me to various police stations, including Kandharapur police station. Later, they produced me before the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Sadar.” He also alleged that the police roughed him up and abused him during detention.
Meanwhile, the airport expansion issue was also raised in parliament. In the presence of civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal raised the issue of the villagers’ agitation in the Rajya Sabha: “Thousands of farmers are agitated, but there is no communication established with them.” Jha urged the ministry to talk to the angry farmers and figure out how to solve the problem. Scindia said, “We will investigate the matter.”