Tribal rights activist Aradhana Bhargav of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) said: “Under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, the land that has been acquired from the farmers is mandated to be returned to them if it remains unused. It has been 10 years since the memorandum of understanding was signed between the Madhya Pradesh government and the Chhindwara Plus Developers.”
The absence of procedure is seen not just in an industrial land acquisition. It is there in land acquired for irrigation also. The land was acquired for many dams including the Sardar Sarovar, the Gulab Sagar Mahan project dam (Sidhi), and the Ken-Betwa river linking projects.
Dan Bahadur Singh, a farmer in Sidhi district, said: “The government has announced an increase in the height of the Gulab Sagar Mahan dam on the Mahan river. Officials came and started working on our land. When we protested, they agreed to stop the work and after a long process, compensation was awarded, which is unsatisfactory. Our land was in the category of irrigated land but we were compensated at rates that applied to non-irrigated land. The displaced are yet to receive compensation.”
Badal Saroj, joint secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, said the BJP government looted land across the state and gave it to corporate houses for meagre sums. Tribal areas are being targeted because they are mineral-rich and people are unaware of their rights, according to him. Where governments find it difficult to acquire land, corporates start buying it. In tribal areas, government officials help them to purchase tribal land, which cannot be sold or purchased. Farmers and tribals are angry and discontented. Incidents of land acquisition in the Vindhya region, the Chambal region and in other parts of the state have become reasons for worry.
Economist Jaya Mehta, who has done extensive studies of the changing agrarian structure in the Indian economy, said: “According to one of our studies, a few years ago Madhya Pradesh had 8.57 million hectares of forest land and a million hectare of agricultural land, but thanks to the MP government, it has shrunk a lot.”
For these reasons, Congress is vocal about the Land Acquisition Act in its manifesto. It can sense the mood and is working to turn it to its advantage.