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Maharashtra: Woes of the real farmers
Binoy Valsan in Pune | June 15, 2007 19:49 IST
The bandwagon of Bollywood stars and their sudden affinity to agriculture has unwittingly accelerated a long standing crisis faced by actual farmers in Maval taluka and surrounding areas.
According to Baba Adhav, general secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Dharan Prakalp Grahasta Shetkari Parishad and a prominent social activist based in Pune, the land dealings of filmstars in Lonavla, Maval and nearby areas have finally put the spotlight on farmers waiting for their promised chunk of land for more than 30 years.
It might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the farmers of Maval, Mulsi, Khed, Ambegaon, Junnar and Indapur areas who have been displaced from their land post the Pauna basin irrigation project.
As many as 1,200 farmers' land had been acquired by the state government for the Pauna dam project, and only 350 of them have been rehabilitated so far, while 850 of them are still running from post to pillar to make the government fulfill its promise.
"The issue is not being addressed in the right sense by the Maharashtra government. It seems they are involved in an extreme urbanisation drive that will have dire consequences on the environment and farmers," Baba Adhav said while speaking to rediff.com at Bhavanipet in Pune.
A jansuvai (public hearing) has been slated for June 27 at the Maval tehsildar's office in Badegaon where farmers from Maval and the other parts of the Pauna basin are expected to congregate and voice their grievances, including the celebrity farmer issue.
"The government should also initiate a judicial probe at the earliest into the rampant land-grabbing that is going on in this region. In the garb of farmhouses, Mumbai-based big shots are buying land claiming they are agriculturists. Everybody knows they are not and, ironically, they get away with it," he added.
Meanwhile, land sharks are making a killing in and around Lonavala with the help of local real estate agents, advocates, police and government officials. The agents procure power of attorney over the land from the farmers for paltry amounts and then sell it off to big shots, mainly from Mumbai.
"The farmers are trapped. These agents have become so powerful with the help of corrupt politicians. There are even instances of arm-twisting tactics adopted by them to get the documents from farmers," Baba Adhav added.
A highly-placed official in the state revenue department reacted to these allegations saying that a lot of farmers who claim they have been swindled are actually disgruntled for the simple fact that they had sold off their property at a very low price, whereas real estate rates have skyrocketed in recent years.
"Even if a power of attorney was given to these land sharks and their agents, most of the farmers were na�ve and their ignorance was exploited by these unscrupulous individuals," pointed out Baba Adhav in Lonavla on Thursday, where he had arrived to garner the local media's support to make the upcoming jansunvai a success.
According to Maruti [Get Quote] D Dalwi, a farmer from Maval taluka, most of these individuals are making a mockery of Section 63 of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act of 1948 which states that for any individual to purchase agricultural land in the state, he/she has to be a farmer.
"These people are well-connected with the government and ministers so they just arrange a fake certificate of their false farmer status and then buy the land. Though actor Amitabh Bachchan [Images] had gone to Uttar Pradesh to get this certificate, Rajasthan is the most preferred destination for these fake documents. Bachchan went to UP as the elephant was yet to arrive at that time," he stated, referring to Mayawati's impending election (the elephant being her party's symbol).
Bachchan's land, according to some locals and also revenue department officials, is actually not suitable for cultivation.
"We are being told by the government that the delay in giving us compensation of land is due to lack of availability of land, but then we have all these bigwigs coming here and procuring land using all false documents and claims," said Radhu Gopal Gaekwad, another farmer from Maval taluka, who is yet to receive compensation for the four acres of land that was acquired from him for the Pauna project.
Though there have been reports of the state revenue minister Narayan Rane asking the Pune collector to conduct an immediate inquiry into the Bachchan land deal and similar cases, Bhavandas Gaekwad, sub divisional magistrate, Maval taluka, told rediff.com that the department was yet to receive any proper notification and instructions in this regard.
"The jansunvai is actually for rehabilitation related grievances, but farmers who have been swindled or rather believe that they have been swindled are also expected to voice their opinion. But most of the land deeds are legal since they had signed on the power of attorney and everything has been done through the proper channels," he added.
However, Baba Adhav seemed steadfast in his stand and pointed out that it should be made public how these fraudulent land deals were done where private parties have procured forest land and farmers' properties.
"The entire Sahyadri belt is being exploited and procured by private players. We all know how much of agriculture they actually indulge in," he said.
He also alleged that a number of officials from the revenue, irrigation and forest departments were dancing to the tune of government officials to favour private parties with no concern for the actual farmers.
"We will go forward with the issue until we get justice. We will neither slow down nor turn back, but keep on moving forward," Baba Adhav said.
Photographs: Binoy Valsan