Dardgoan: On 22nd and 23rd October 2010, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) celebrated 25 years of its struggle with a series of events held across several towns and villages, from Dhadgoan (Maharashtra) to Badwani (Madhya Pradesh). Several movements and groups from around India who are fighting similar battles for their land, water, and natural resources joined in this celebration because they have in some way or the other been inspired by the non-violent method that the NBA has chosen to fight the cause of displaced tribals and farmers facing ‘imminent destruction’ with the completion of the Sardar Sarovar dam project.
One such group present at the celebrations was that of eight farmers from Delhi representing Kanjhawla Kisan Andolan. This group is fighting a ‘do or die’ battle against the acquisition of their land which has been earmarked for an industrial zone by the Delhi government. The region comprises the agriculturally rich villages of Kanjhawla, Karawla, Putt Khurd, Tikri Kala, Tikri Khurd, Sultanpur, Dabas, Alipur and Bakauli.
Immediately after the inauguration of the commemorative event on the lawns of the Narmada Jevan Shala School in Dardgaon, I asked Karan Singh of Kanjhawala village about his struggle in Delhi. “Another Singur is in the making”, he said confidently. Since 25th August 2006, when the first meeting was called to assess the threat of the land acquisition, and continuing till today, the women of these villages have been in the forefront of the struggle. They are usually led by 75 years old Smt. Vedvati (the pillar of the struggle in Kanjhwala).
On 30th August 2005, the Government of Delhi, through a notification, had declared that it would take over 1400 acres of prime agricultural land in Kanjhawla and its neighbouring villages for industrial purpose and would relocate there hundreds of polluting industries from various parts of Delhi. The government notified the area for acquisition even without seeking any consent of the people whose land was going to be acquired. Further, the relocation of numerous factories would also turn the zone into a hazardous one for the health of the people and would impact negatively on both the environment and the social life of the people. Till 19th March 2008, the farmers of these villages met several key officials in Delhi, including the Chief Ministers, Lt Governor as well as key political leaders. Finally, they began an indefinite strike on 19th March 2008 in front of the office of the Deputy Commissioner of North-West Delhi demanding their rights to own and hold on to their land. Moreover, no compensation has yet been paid to the thousands of agricultural labourers in these villages whose livelihood is linked to agricultural and related activities. Even land cost has been fixed much below the market price. While the market rate for the land is minimum 1.5 crore rupees per hectare, the compensation that the Delhi government announced was based on the price of 25 lakh rupees per hectare. Later on the government decided to give an additional sum of 23 lakh rupees as rehabilitation subsidy per family but which till now has remained a mere verbal assurance.
The Jat women, who are rarely seen without purdah (veils), took the leading role in staging protests and demonstrations opposing the acquisition of their land. More than 1000 women and men of Kanjhawla laid siege to the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office in North West Delhi on 11th September 2009. The nearby villages were also blockaded and farmers vowed to end their siege only when their land was returned to them. The siege of DC’s office continued for 35 days and it was lifted only because the national elections were held. However, the protest against the land acquisition is still on and lately there was a gherao of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha (Assembly) on 10th September 2010 with the demand that the entire area be de-notified. They also said that they would not oppose land acquisition if the government provided 50 percent of developed patches to original land owners so that their family members are able to run a business for their survival in the absence of agriculture, which has been their traditional occupation, till now.
The victory of Singur farmers against the TATA group has inspired them, giving them the strength and courage and they are ready to die in order to protect their land. And the spirit of Narmada Bacho Andolan has given them hope to continue this non-violent struggle and have brought them closer to several other similar struggles where farmers, tribals, fishermen are fighting for their right over their resources. The Kanjhawala struggle has also been greatly inspired by the NBA. That is why the Kanjhawala farmers came out in strength to join the commemorative events of 25 years of NBA because they believe that they can win only if they merge their struggle with other similar movements and struggles.
The Kanjhawala farmers are hopeful of getting their land back since they have filed a case in the Delhi High Court questioning the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes and alleging that the increasing acquisition of agricultural land could result in food scarcity in the country. Agricultural land is being continuously diverted to the non-agricultural sector due to growing urbanization, and this poses a great threat to the future food security of the country. Challenging the government’s action, the farmers have pleaded that the court should restrain the Delhi government from using fertile agricultural land for industrial purposes. The case is still pending, but the farmers have vowed not to give up till their battle meets with success. Hence, twenty-five years ago when the NBA movement began, it unleashed forces that it probably did not imagine it could.