Mumbai: Sunday night’s death of an elderly farmer who consumed poison outside the government headquarters in Mumbai a week earlier has rattled the state government, already under fire for the way it has handled agrarian distress.
The two-hectare farm of Dharma Patil, 84, from Dhule district, was acquired for a power project. He was upset with his Rs2.18 lakh compensation, while the adjacent farm, he claimed, was paid Rs1.90 crore. His demand for a revaluation of his property went in vain.
With farmers in Patil’s village Vikharan taking to streets, the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party spotted an opportunity, demanding an offence of murder be lodged against the government for driving Patil to suicide. Of late, the two parties, which had parted ways in 2014, have joined hands on agrarian issues.
Soon after Patil died at J. J. Hospital, state energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule ordered a revaluation of his property, promising that if it is valued higher, the additional sum would be paid with interest within 30 days from 29 January. On Monday chief minister Devendra Fadnavis spoke to Narendra Patil, son of Dharma Patil, on the phone and assured him that all demands his father had made would be accepted. Patil told news channels that his father’s struggle for a fair compensation began years back, and the government officials were solely responsible for his father’s death.
Maharashtra Congress president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan charged the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government with the “murder of Patil who was not even heard out by anyone responsible in the government when he had reached the Mantralaya with his grievance". Chavan said opposition parties would raise the issue during the budget session of Maharashtra legislature. NCP leader and leader of the opposition in Maharashtra legislative council Dhananjay Munde said Patil’s death proved that the BJP-led government had ceased to be the government of the people. “Their countdown has begun. If they don’t learn even from this death which is actually a murder, then farmers may hit the streets to trample this government," Munde said. The NCP would intensify its ongoing ‘Halla Bol’ protest against the government, Munde added.
Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe, however, said the previous Congress-NCP government was largely responsible for the death, as the land acquisition and fixing the quantum of compensation began during their tenure.
Patil’s two hectares were part of around 600 hectares notified by the Congress-NCP government in 2009 for a Rs22,000 crore 3,300-megawatt thermal power project. The project, however, was cancelled around six months back by the BJP-Shiv Sena government, which proposed a 500-mw solar power project over 125 hectares of the total 436 hectares acquired for the thermal project. According to a government press release issued last week when Patil was in the hospital, the process to notify and acquire Patil’s land began in May 2009 and a joint measurement survey by various government departments was completed in 2011. The final award of compensation was announced in April 2014 and in April 2017, Patil accepted an award of Rs2.18 lakh. However, he had claimed that the land adjacent to his farm was paid a compensation of Rs1.90 crore and demanded a revaluation.
A government official, who is familiar with the issue and who requested anonymity, said a project-affected farmer could challenge the award of compensation only in a court of law after the process under the Land Acquisition Act is completed. “Patil had not challenged the award in any court and the government cannot consider revaluation after the due legal process has been completed," the official said.
A BJP functionary, who did not want to be named, said though the government records proved that the process to notify, acquire and award compensation was completed during the Congress-NCP regime, the fact that Patil had died during the BJP rule had come as a “big embarrassment". He also admitted that the government had exposed itself to the charges of “callousness and cynicism" by not deploying someone senior in the government to attend to Patil’s grievance when he was battling for life in the hospital.
“All the announcements that the chief minister and the energy minister have made today could have been made earlier as well when he was alive. The government has exposed itself by not showing the basic political courtesies," the BJP functionary said.