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Madhya Pradesh has become a hub for protests against land seizures

India farmers risk life and limb for land

Madhya Pradesh has become a hub for protests against land seizures
Farmers in Madhya Pradesh sit atop unlit pyres to protest land confiscations reporter, Bhopal

December 6, 2012

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The central state of Madhya Pradesh has in recent months become a hotbed of farmers’ protests.

Farmers in the region have taken desperate measures to oppose what they say are illegal land seizures made for the benefit of industrial projects, and have demanded fair compensation for the loss of their land.

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes even issued strongly worded letter to chief minister of the state Shivraj Singh Chauhan last month. 

“Even the state government failed to comply with its own rehabilitation policy when it came to land acquisition of tribal communities, endangering their life and livelihood,” the letter stated.

The commission says that a spot study conducted in September found several examples of intimidation by private companies to acquire tribal lands without compensation in Anuppur and Singrauli districts.

In response, farmers in several districts have engaged in extreme protests, with about 50 of them standing neck deep in water for more than two weeks to demand compensation for land seized for the construction of a state dam project.

The state government ultimately agreed to their demands.

In another protest, about 50,000 landless and homeless peasants marched 350 kilometers from Gwalior district to New Delhi in October to demand about two hectares of land for each family to build a house and manage a small holding.

They also demanded special courts be established to hear land dispute cases.

The protesters later called off their march after the government assured them it would formulate a new land reform policy that would include fast-tracking settlements of land disputes.

However, more recent protests have taken a deadly turn. 

On November 15, a woman set herself ablaze and a youth took poison to resist the acquisition of their land in Katni district.

Other farmers in the area subsequently began perching on unlit pyres and threatening to immolate themselves if their land was seized by the state.

“The government wants to exploit the poverty and illiteracy of the tribal people for its advantage by ignoring the laws meant for their protection,” said Mustak Mansoori, a complainant to the tribal commission. 

Mansoori, a member of the Janata Dal United (Socialist Party), told that displaced tribal people were being deprived of their constitutional right to a dignified life.

In gross violation of the law, the government used police to evict them from ancestral lands, he said. 

Developments this week, however, may hold some hope for compromise.

The state government yesterday addressed the issue of the pyre protests in Katni district. The House debated for nearly four hours, during which chief minister of the state Chauhan said protesters’ lands would not be taken until or unless they gave their consent.

Chauhan further assured the House that farmers’ land would not be taken forcefully for commercial purposes and that the state government would make amends if any such incidents had taken place.

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