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Airport project threatens villagers in India

Farmers say land acquisition aims to help business firms at the cost of their livelihood

Airport project threatens villagers in India

A child with a placard asking "where will we go?" in Hindi at a demonstration against the proposed taking of their land ffor a new a new airport in Ajmer district of Rajasthan state, northern India. (ucanews.com photo)

Saji Thomas, Ajmer
India

March 16, 2017

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Some 1,500 villagers in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan are refusing to discontinue their four-year fight to protect their farms from being appropriated by authorities for a new airport.

Villagers from Rathodon Ki Dhaani in the state's Ajmer district said authorities had in 2013 issued them notices to vacate their land so they could add facilities to the planned Kishangarh airport, scheduled to be commissioned in July.

"Come what may we will not leave our village; we will die fighting to protect our land," said Suraj Kawar, a woman who was exhorting villagers to prepare for the worst in the ongoing protest.

The villagers set up a tent that they fill on a rotational basis. If the government is determined to proceed then they should at least be compensated, villagers said.

"The compensation that the government is offering is grossly inadequate," said Sister Carol Geeta from the Mission Sisters of Ajmer congregation who is supporting the struggle.

Even if the best compensation is offered in terms of money the villagers said they would not be able to find grazing for their cattle and alternative locations for their homes, temples and other public places. "They stand to lose a 500-year-old ancestral place and the traditions they built up there," the nun said.

The villagers said the government offered them one sixth of an earlier sum offered to influential and politically-connected people in their neighborhood. "Why is there so much difference in the price of land?" said Rajendra Singh, a villager who is set to lose nearly three hectares. The current offer is US$12,200 per bigha (just under half a hectare).

Singh said the government is bent on acquiring their land to protect the land of influential people on the other side of the planned airport that could also be used.

The villagers moved Rajasthan state High Court in March 2016 but they are yet get a concrete order, Singh said, adding they will now approach the court to expedite the process as the development is set to begin soon.

Social worker and rights activist Himanshu Kumar, who supports the villagers, said the current form of development in India highlights the issue of building huge structures while "grabbing the land of the poor and handing it over to the rich."

The resistance is ongoing. "We will hold a special meeting with the affected villagers before deciding the future course of action," Sister Geeta told ucanews.com.

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