New Delhi villagers seek compensation 100 years after being evicted by Raj
Indian villagers whose ancestors’ land was seized by colonial officials to build a new colonial capital for the British Raj are suing for compensation almost 100 years after King George V announced the creation of New Delhi.
The case has been brought by the descendants of 300 villagers who lived on the grounds of what is now India's Rashtrapati Bhavan, pictured Photo: ALAMY
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
8:58PM BST 04 Aug 2011
Lawyers for the families said they may also make Britain a party to their case, dragging the former colonial master into India’s current running battle over land reform.
The were evicted under the controversial 1894 Land Acquisition Act which is still used by the Indian government today to force villagers to make way for infrastructure and business projects such as power stations and steel plants.
The case has been brought by the descendants of 300 villagers who lived on the grounds of what is now India’s Rashtrapati Bhavan – or Presidential House – to force the Indian government to track down money set aside for compensation but never paid.
Between 1911 and 1916, just under 4,000 acres were cleared and 300 families were evicted from Raisina and Malcha villages to create the Viceroy’s House, the grand sandstone palace which towers over the Indian parliament and ministry buildings.
Some compensation money was lodged with the Bank of Bengal, which eventually became part of the State Bank of India, but lawyers say little of the money was ever paid out.
At the time the villagers disputed the compensation rates offered by the British – they demanded 2,400 Rupees per acre for fertile land and Rs1,920 for infertile land, but were offered only Rs85 and Rs15 per acre.
Just one in ten of those evicted accepted the offer. Land earmarked on the outskirts of New Delhi is currently valued at $1m per acre for official compensation purposes, although land in central Delhi is many times more valuable.
Now their descendants, armed with India’s Right to Information legislation, have revived the dispute and demanded that the Indian government recover missing compensation funds from the accounts they were paid into and either fully compensate those who never received any payment or return the land to them.
Their land is today occupied by prime minister, foreign and home ministers, the state president, several other ministries and most of the main foreign embassies in the capital.
“The petitioners have stated that their forefathers were not paid any compensation by the British government for their land and they were up rooted from their land and homes without any money.
They have proved they are the legal heirs and revenue records have been submitted to prove the land was acquired by the government. Besides this, we have presented records which prove that the families have not received any money,” their lawyer Sanjay Rathi told The Daily Telegraph.
“We will demand restoration of the deposited money to the families and revised compensation or return of the land to the families because the land was taken during an oppressive regime when the land owners were illiterate and had no means to fight back. We will demand justice,” he added.
The petitioners are now debating whether to drag Britain into the case as the colonial authority which ordered the land clearance: “If need arises we can make British government a party in the case since the land acquisition was taken place under their regime,” Mr Rathi said.
India's land seizure problems
India’s incredible growth story has been the envy of all but China in recent years, but it’s now threatened by a bitter battle over the land it needs to build and develop.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
9:43PM BST 04 Aug 2011
Behind headlines of eight per cent growth rates and corporate takeovers by Indian tycoons, the cracks are beginning to show. More than 30 per cent of its farm produce rots on slow, pot-holed roads, food inflation is hitting the poor hard and in the cities the urban middle classes swelter without air conditioners in unbearable summer power cuts.
The answer is new roads, railways, mines for steel to build new power plants, and factories to offer jobs for what will soon be the world’s largest population. But the land needed to build the new India is currently a battlefield.
The protagonists are the millions of poor farmers who are being forced from their land or cheated of fair compensation rates, government officials and ‘land aggregators’ or members of the ‘land mafia’ who buy cheap and sell at a profit.
At Delhi’s Jantar Mantar monument thousands of campaigners, farmers and forest tribesmen protested against the government’s failure to call for better protections in a new Land Acquisition Act.
Both campaigners and business leaders say the current standoff is dragging India down just when it should be taking off.
Arun Nanda, chief of land acquisition for Mahindra, one of India’s most respected business houses, said the current act is holding up key projects. “It is holding up key projects because without land there’s no starting point. New infrastructure is held up because land acquisition takes so long,” he said.
He said the answer is offering a fair deal to farmers but officials and land mafia aggregators often provoke disputes by buying cheap from farmers, then selling high after re-zoning the land to industrial use. “The land goes up by five to ten times and the farmer gets angry that he got a raw deal,” he said.
Disputes like these have led to fatal clashes between farmers and political gangs in West Bengal and Orissa, while protests are spreading in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Dr Binayak Sen, one of India’s leading academics and campaigners for poor farmers, said “widespread expropriation” of their property by India’s “archaic” Land Acquisition Act. The act allowed officials to seize their land by claiming it was for a “public purpose” even when the plots are given to private contractors looking for quick profits.
India's land disputes at a glance
Here are some of India's land disputes at a glance.
Labourers work on the under-construction of the Buddh International F1 Circuit in Greater Noida Photo: AFP/GETTY
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
7:12PM BST 04 Aug 2011
Orissa/Vedanta aluminium mine
A deal between British Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal and the government of Orissa to create a bauxite mine and aluminium smelting plant in a forest worshipped by tribesmen as a goddess sparked bitter protests from subsistence farmers whose land was taken for the project.
The tribesmen and their families said the forest had always belonged to them as common land and the ‘illegal’ development threatened their traditional lifestyle. New cash wages had increased drunkenness and introduced prostitution in the area. The Indian government rejected the proposals to mine bauxite and said it would consider cancelling a permit for its aluminium refinery in August last year
Vedic Village, Calcutta.
Vedic Village has been at the centre of a dispute between villagers who say they were conned into selling their land to the company at below market prices.
Tensions between the resort and villagers earlier boiled over at a football match between a Vedic Village team in 2009 and a local side which included several villagers. Violence between rival supporters flared after a disputed penalty and a player was killed in the fighting.
Singur, West Bengal:
The state’s Communists clashed with small farmers in 2006 when they started acquiring land to build a plant for Tata Motors.
In nearby Nandigram, 14 protestors against forced land acquisition for a ‘special economic zone’ were killed in clashes with Communist ‘cadres.’
Tata was eventually forced to abandon the project and switched production to Gujarat.
Noida – Delhi Grand Prix
Farmers in Noida, a new city on the outskirts of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh are currently protesting against the seizure of their land and the profiteering of land aggregators. The villagers were paid 11.65 pounds per hectare for land which was later sold by construction firms for more than 70 pounds per hectare. Although they felt cheated, the sums they had been paid had divided families and caused an increase in public drunkenness.