Chennai:Until now, V. Gowri and her husband have counted on their three acres of land in Chellaperumbulimedu, a village some 160km from Chennai, to bring up their four daughters.

But the 40-year-old Gowri is no longer sure what she will turn to, as her land has been earmarked by the Tamil Nadu government for industrial purposes.

Blame game: A field in Kancheepuram. Farmers allege that the Tamil Nadu government is using coercive methods for land acquisition. Arjoon Manohar / Mint

“The authorities say it’s law. They tell us the government will take it (the piece of land); ‘what can you do?’ What can we do? We are poor people," Gowri says.

This 2,300-acre parcel has been identified for acquisition by the State Industries Promotion Corp. of Tamil Nadu Ltd, or Sipcot, a government-owned entity.

But Sipcot is now facing problems with some villagers protesting the proposed acquisition. Even in villages where land has already been acquired, there have been growing allegations of irregularities in procedures Sipcot followed.

Acquiring land for industrialization is not a problem limited to Tamil Nadu. There has been several protests by farmers across the country in the past couple of years against setting up of industries on farm land.

Local protests forced Tata Motors Ltd to relocate its Nano small car factory in Singur in West Bengal, to Sanand in Gujarat. Other industrial projects, too, have faced delays due to farmers being unwilling to give up land, such as Korean steel maker Posco’s $12 billion (about Rs56,520 crore today) steel plant project in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa.

To be sure, there has been “no open resistance relatively in Tamil Nadu, which is as organized as in...Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, or even Karnataka", says Vijayabhaskar, an assistant professor specializing in labour in Tamil Nadu economy at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, or Mids. He uses only one name.

However, farmers in nine villages of Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram districts are still protesting even as Sipcot has started surveys and marking the land for acquisition. The nine villages are Chellaperumbulimedu, Kunnavakkam, Ayinjalpattu, Perumbulimedu, Mangal, Akoor, Karanai, Ukka-mperumbakkam and Mathur.

Unwilling farmers

Headmen of at least four villages say farmers in their villages are not willing to give up their land to Sipcot, while another said no decision has been taken by his villagers. The others couldn’t immediately be reached.

Says K. Ravichandran, village president of Chellaperumbulimedu and Ayinjalpattu: “None from these two villages are ready to give up their land as this is the only means of livelihood for them. We don’t want any money; if we have our pieces of land, we can grow rice and eat."

He says that though they have submitted their petition expressing their unwillingness to give their land, the government is continuing with its survey of the areas.

The district collector of Tiruvannamalai, M. Rajendran, says, “We are trying to take land in nine villages and have sent proposals. We have also called interested parties for lodging their objections."

According to him, only two villages have raised objections and have asked for a higher compensation, which the government is considering. “There is nothing like organized protest; political parties are making it a big issue."

Helpless: Gowri (left) and Margabandhu. Authorities say they are trying to acquire land in nine villages and have sent proposals but landowners in at least five of those villages say there have been no negotiations on the prices of land. Some also accuse the government of forceful acquisitions. Arjoon Manohar / Mint

Thulasi also claims that the pieces of land (two cents each) that were given to 150 families below the poverty line in the village have been earmarked for acquisition. One cent is equal to 0.01 of an acre.

Tamizh Iniyan, village head of Mathur village, which has around 552 families and a population of at least 1,800, says: “Sipcot has sent a notice to me asking me to sign it. It asks us to give our consent to give up the porambokku land (or wasteland) that belongs to the government." “We use that land for grazing and there are pathways in that area. So, how can we give it up?" Iniyan says, adding, “And, there have been no negotiations and they have not specified the rates."

One Sipcot official, who spoke to Mint on condition of anonymity, says: “If some land comes in the middle of the project, we have to acquire it to maintain continuity."

Livelihood issues

Some villagers said they would not be able to get alternative employment nor will they be able to buy another piece of land using the money that they get from the government for their land.

Says K. Raghu, 37, a farmer, who with his two brothers owns nine acres of land: “What will people who are old, say 50-60 years, do after selling their land to the government? They will not get jobs in the factories that come up and in many cases, even their sons or daughters are not that educated to get jobs in those companies. We can’t live with the money that we get from the government in the long term." Quite a few villagers echoed that view to Mint.

Raghu says he has given petitions to the district collector of Tiruvannamalai stating that he is not willing to give up his land. “He (district collector of Tiruvannamalai) says we will get a ‘good amount’ and asks us to be patient. But, we don’t know what that ‘good amount’ is."

Rajendran, the district collector of Tiruvannamalai, claims that the villagers “have only asked for higher compensation" and it is not that they are “not willing to give up their land". “I have recommended their cases to the government," he explains.

Mids’ Vijayabhaskar says, “My sense is that people in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu have one foot in the urban economy. They are willing to give up their land if it is at the right price."

Call of progress

The Sipcot official, however, says, “Who wants to give up their land? They (landowners) have to understand that it is for the development of the economy. How will the state progress otherwise? Cheyyar is a backward (sub-) district and we will provide employment to the uneducated, semi-skilled and unskilled people."

He claims that Sipcot has even prepared a list of the available youth in the villages from where the 2,300 acres are being acquired. He says they would be trained and absorbed by the industries that come up in that area.

The official also mentioned that the district collector decides the rate of land based on “the latest land transaction in the area" as well as the figures available with the sub-registrar’s office. “If the landowners have a problem, they can fight it out in the court," he adds.

The revenue officer of Cheyyar taluk (sub-district) in Tiruvannamalai district, who is responsible for the land acquisition process in the nine villages, refused to comment.

Forced acquisition

Another problem a few landowners spoke about was forcible acquisition without enough compensation. Margabandu, a tailor who hails from Mathur village, owned a small piece of land on which he had built a house for his family.

When Sipcot acquired around 630 acres to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) in Cheyyar, of the 112 people, around 10 landowners had objected.

“They (government authorities) offered us Rs325 per cent. We were not willing to give up our land. They did not even calculate the value of the house that I had built," Margabandu says.

“The government can acquire as much land as it wants to as long it is for public use," Vijayabhaskar clarifies. “The key word is public use."

Margabandu claims that along with the others, fraudulent cases were filed against him and they were put in custody on remand for 10 days. “Just because we are poor people, they cannot treat us like insects. We had then asked for enhanced compensation but till now, we haven’t received any amount at all."

The Sipcot official says that if the court directs them to pay enhanced compensation, they do so but if the court rules in favour of Sipcot, then it is obliged to abide by the law.

Fixing rates

One government official who is involved in land acquisition and did not want to be named explains how the whole process works. “We have a discussion with the landowners and ask them to give their consent to give up their land. Then, we collect statistics and take into account the recent sales of land in the area and compare those. We recommend a value to the government and we get the landowners to sign the relevant documents." “We are trying to be very liberal in fixing the rates. In case, they are not okay with the rates, they need to go to the court to get an enhanced compensation."

Another landowner, an erstwhile farmer, who now lives on the income from a tea stall run by one of his sons, claims that he was not inclined to give up his land (2 acre) but it was taken away for the Cheyyar SEZ.

“It had taken us years to get that piece of land and at that time, the situation was so bad that my wife had almost committed suicide. I filed a case for at least enhanced compensation but lost the case. How can we poor people afford to spend on lawyers and court cases?" he says.

In yet another land acquisition by the state government, Sipcot Industrial Park in Oragadam is being extended. Facilities of companies such as Hyundai Motor Co. already exist there and facilities of other companies are also coming up in the extended area.

For example, the joint venture between Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd and Daimler AG and Hero Group are coming up in the extended area in Oragadam.

Alleged irregularities

Some landowners from Oragadam and Chennakuppam villages claim the land acquisition proceedings by the government have irregularities.

G. Saraswathi, 38, owned 2 acres, which had been passed on to her by her father-in-law. Her father-in-law had received this piece of land during the Bhoodan movement.

Vinoba Bhave, a freedom fighter, travelled across India and convinced rich landlords to donate a part of their land to the poor and landless. This came to be known as the Bhoodan movement.

“That (the piece of land she owned) is the only thing we had. We depended on that for our food. We didn’t want to give but they started work on it when we were away," Saraswathi claims. “When we went and told Sipcot officials that we will not be able to give our land, they assured us they won’t (take the land), but they finally did."

She says there were 13 people who owned land in the Chennakuppam village that was passed on to them by their ancestors (who had been given the piece of land during the Bhoodan movement).

Another villager from Chennakuppam, K. Navaneetham, 27, claims that she was given land via the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Harijan Welfare Schemes Act, 1978. “Now, Sipcot wants to take that away too. We were planning to build a house there," she says.

The official mentioned earlier in the story justifies the acquisition of those pieces of land by saying that “those people were given a deadline of one year to construct their houses. They still haven’t done that. The plots are still lying vacant. So, we decided to acquire that too."

He says land from the people who owned it courtesy the Bhoodan movement, came in the middle of the land that Sipcot was trying to acquire for industrial facilities and therefore, it had to acquire it as well. “In any case, the compensation will not go to the people, it will go to the Bhoodan Board. That is because they did not own the land anyways."

Navaneetham says there are 85 other families who are in a similar predicament as she is.

A. Nagaraj, who says he is over 60 years old, claims he has been using the government wasteland (around 4 acres) for at least 40 years and growing food for his family. “When they (DMK government) came to power, they said that if we have been using the government land for many years, then we could get the patta (title deed) for that. But, though I tried to get it, they (authorities) did not grant it to me."

The government of Tamil Nadu website says: “In order to help the poor and downtrodden people who have encroached the poramboke lands (wasteland) by way of dwelling houses for more that 10 years, the government issued orders to regularize their encroachment under the One Time Special Scheme introduced." This was dated 30 December 2006.

It adds, “Under the scheme, a committee under the chairmanship of the district collector can grant house site pattas to those who are living in unobjectionable government poramboke lands for more than 10 years and produce proper evidence for their occupation and eligibility."

The validity of the scheme was from January to June 2007, but was later extended to 31 March.

“Now, I go for coolie (daily wages) jobs," Nagaraj says.