July 09, 2023

Significance of the Greater Noida Farmers' Land Struggle

P Krishnaprasad

THE current union government led by the BJP has been working as the agent of the corporates in various aspects, including the implementation of land acquisition laws. It is worth mentioning that when the first Narendra Modi government took office on May 26, 2014, it displayed a firm determination to introduce the Land Acquisition Ordinance 2014 on December 31, 2014 aimed to replace the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act 2013).

The Land Acquisition Ordinance 2014 stripped landholders and the peasantry of their rights and benefits granted by the LARR Act 2013 and granted extensive powers to district collectors to acquire land even without the consent of the landholder, facilitating the transfer of such land to corporates.

However, the farming community vehemently opposed the Land Acquisition Ordinance, leading to the Modi government's retreat. Through united and widespread protests, including a march to parliament organised by the newly formed united platform called the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, the peasantry exerted pressure and forced the government to abandon the ordinance without passing it as an Act. The All India Kisan Sabha played a crucial role in fostering issue-based unity and mobilising farmers nationwide to join the struggle.

This marked the first political setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the strength and determination of the peasantry in safeguarding their rights and interests.

Subsequently, corporate forces employed a different strategy to circumvent the rights and benefits granted by the LARR Act 2013 to landholders and the farming community. They influenced the BJP-led NDA and regional political parties aligned with neoliberal reforms to introduce Land Acquisition Acts through their respective state assemblies. As a result, numerous state governments enacted laws that protected the interests of corporate entities.

Despite the LARR Act 2013 still being in force, farmers and landholders affected by land acquisition projects were deprived of the rights and benefits guaranteed by this legislation. This betrayal is attributable to both the BJP-led Union government and various state governments across the country, who acted against the best interests of landholders and the farming community as a whole.

Land acquisition processes are taking place throughout the country, and farmers are actively engaging in struggles to secure fair compensation and benefits. These ongoing struggles can be observed in several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat, Assam, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, spanning several years. 

Numerous petitions filed by farmer families affected by large-scale land acquisition projects are currently pending in various courts across the country. However, it is worth noting that in Kerala, the state government has been providing more favourable compensation to families affected by such projects. Consequently, there is a growing demand across India to adopt the compensation model employed in Kerala for landholders involved in all land acquisition projects.

The Land Acquisition Act of 1894, enacted during the British colonial era, was the prevailing law prior to the implementation of the LARR Act 2013. Under this act, landowners were provided compensation based on the market rate, as recommended by the local revenue officer. 124 villages were notified to form the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) and acquisition proceedings were initiated in 39 villages. The GNIDA was established in 1991 under the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Area Development Act of 1976.

In 2008, a massive protest was organised by farmers demanding fair compensation. Tragically, police fired upon the protesters, resulting in the loss of eight lives. At the time, the prevailing market rate for land was Rs 450 per square metre, but due to the farmers' resistance, the state government was compelled to increase the offer to Rs 850 per square metre. However, this offer was still deemed unsatisfactory by the affected landholding families, and their struggles persisted.

Another incident of police firing occurred in 2011 in Bhatta Parsaul village of Greater Noida, leading to the loss of two farmers' lives. Similar instances of violence were witnessed in various parts of the country as farmers fought for their land rights. It was within this political context that the second UPA government was compelled to pass the LARR Act 2013, addressing the grievances and demands of the farming community.

The LARR Act 2013 introduced several important benefits and rights for landholders. According to the Act, a social impact assessment study became mandatory prior to the initiation of the land acquisition process. Additionally, consent from 80 per cent of landholders in urban areas and 70 per cent in rural areas became a prerequisite for land acquisition. The Act also emphasized the responsibility of governments to ensure the rehabilitation and resettlement of families affected by the projects.

The LARR Act 2013 established fair compensation guidelines, with landholders entitled to receive two times the circle rate of the land in urban regions and four times in rural regions. Moreover, provisions were made for providing employment opportunities in upcoming industries and services to those affected by land acquisition. Landless families residing in the project area were to be provided with house plots, and access to education and healthcare facilities was guaranteed.

Furthermore, if a project did not materialise within five years, the land was to be returned to the original landholders. These provisions aimed to protect the rights and interests of landholders and ensure their well-being in the face of land acquisition for development projects.

Despite the agreement made in 2011 between the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) and the families affected by land acquisition, it remained unimplemented, leading to continued farmer protests. Since 2014, numerous struggles have taken place in the area, with the AIKS playing a pivotal role in organising farmers.

The Uttar Pradesh state government consistently resorted to forceful measures, including arrests and imprisonment of protest leaders, thereby facilitating corporate loot of farmers' land resources. Despite repeated demands by farmers, the circle rate of the land remained unchanged since 2011. Shockingly, land acquired by the GNIDA at a rate of Rs 3,500 per square metre has been transferred to various corporate entities at rates ranging from Rs 72,000 to Rs 80,000 per square metre, indicating a glaring disparity and exploitation within the corporate world.

Allegations of widespread corruption among the bureaucracy and political circles have surfaced, pointing to personal gains derived from the land acquisition process. Such circumstances have deeply infuriated the farmers in Greater Noida. In February 2023, they reignited their struggle, demanding the implementation of the 2011 agreement signed by the GNIDA, which includes fair compensation and other benefits for the affected families.

The success of this struggle can be primarily attributed to the strategic approach of establishing villages as the base of the land struggle. The AIKS played a crucial role in forming committees in 22 out of the 39 affected villages, effectively mobilising and activating these communities. Various initiatives were undertaken during the struggle period, such as organising village kisan mahapanchayats (mass gatherings of farmers), conducting daily prabhat phery (morning rallies), establishing separate subcommittees for women and youth, organising motorbike and tractor rallies, and more.

These series of activities played a vital role in fostering a sense of collectivism and solidarity among the villagers, empowering them to confront the authorities peacefully while ensuring widespread participation. Importantly, the leadership role of women and youth was emphasized, further strengthening the movement. Even in the face of adversity, such as the imprisonment of 34 prominent activists for an extended period of 18 days, the movement witnessed increased participation in the day and night dharna (sit-in protests) and padav struggle. Notably, hundreds of women from the villages actively participated and stayed at the padav struggle site, organising food arrangements from the villages to sustain the protest.

Overall, the strategy of grassroots mobilisation and active village participation, along with the leadership of women and youth, contributed to the success of the struggle.

A major achievement was the agreement made between the Uttar Pradesh government and the Greater Noida farmers on June 24, 2023. The most significant achievement of this agreement is the provision of a comprehensive written assurance, which recognises all the major demands put forth by the farmers. These demands include among others higher compensation, a committee to enhance the circle rate of land and frame employment policy, allocation of house plots to landless families, and the return of 10 per cent of the developed land to the farmers.

To ensure the implementation of these demands, a high-power committee, headed by the state minister for industrial development, the government of Uttar Pradesh, will be established. This committee is tasked with overseeing the timely execution of the agreed-upon measures, with a deadline set for July 15, 2023. This written assurance marks a significant accomplishment after 12 years of struggle and empowers the Greater Noida farmers to closely monitor the progress of implementation. Should the state government fail to fulfill its commitments, the farmers will have the confidence to resume their struggle, rallying with even greater participation.

The success of the Greater Noida farmers' land struggle will serve as an inspiration for farmer families affected by land acquisition projects nationwide. It will encourage them to rejuvenate and intensify their ongoing struggles, striving to secure the benefits and rights conferred by the LARR Act 2013. This triumph also acts as a deterrent against unbridled corporate loot of land resources, which has been facilitated by the BJP-led Narendra Modi government and state governments influenced by neo-liberal forces.

In light of this significant achievement, the AIKS has called upon all its state units to celebrate the victory of the Greater Noida Farmers Land Struggle in villages across the country before July 10, 2023, further spreading the message of solidarity and empowerment among farmers.