Villagers up in arms against proposed land acquisition bid for expansion of Azamgarh airport
Fearing displacement and loss of livelihood, thousands of villagers have intensified their protest against the proposed acquisition of land for the expansion of the Azamgarh airport
Fearing displacement and loss of livelihood, thousands of villagers belonging to Azamgarh – the hometown of famous Urdu poet and Bollywood song writer Kaifi Azmi – have intensified their protest against the proposed acquisition of land for the expansion of the currently-dysfunctional Azamgarh airport under the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) scheme.
UDAN (flight) is a regional airport development program aimed at upgrading under-serviced air routes in India.
Azamgarh airport along with Aligarh, Chitrakoot, Sonebhadra and Shravasti was selected by the Yogi government for upgradation and expansion this year in July.
Later, a memorandum was signed between the Yogi government and the Airports Authorities of India (AAI) for operation and maintenance of these five airports.
Though an official notification for the acquisition of land has not been issued yet, protesting villagers claimed that the district administration conducted two surveys within one month “without taking stakeholders into confidence”.
As per the plan, 360 acres of land will be acquired in the first phase while 310 acres will be acquired in the second phase.
Highlighting the scale of “destruction and displacement” that the land acquisition would cause, Rajeev Yadav, who is leading the anti-airport agitation said, “More than 2500 houses will be destroyed in the first phase…On October 13, the SDM accompanied by PAC came to Jamua to conduct a survey. When people got to know, they gheraoed the survey team, following which they had to flee”.
“A minor scuffle broke out during the next survey. While men were locked inside their houses, the police misbehaved with the women,” added Yadav, social activist and general secretary of Rihai Manch, an organisation fighting for the victims of fake encounters.
On October 14, a day after the “unsuccessful survey” residents of Hasanpur village wrote a joint letter to the concerned authorities demanding action against the concerned policemen. They also urged the district administration to halt the survey.
Others alleged that a forceful survey was conducted at the behest of the local BJP leaders.
Residents of four villages – Jamua, Jimia, Hasanpur and Kadipur – wrote a joint letter to the Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister's Office, the Union Home Minister and the Aviation Minster on October 14, urging them to take cognisance of the matter.
In the letter, the villagers claimed that 50,000 people will be displaced by the proposed project.
The villagers have alleged that there was a nexus between corporates and the politicians, and that the local administration was intent on doing forceful acquisition.
“Jaan de denge lekin zameen nahi (we will sacrifice our lives but will not leave our land),” reads the letter signed by the farmers.
“As per the revenue documents, upgradation and the expansion were planned to the east of the airport, which is a barren, non-agricultural land. But they have changed the plan and are conducting survey in west side which is a violation of the original plan,” said a farmer who is living in the close vicinity of the airport.
Apart from writing letters and staging sit-in sat Jamua village, farmers have dispatched “asahmati patra (letters of disagreement)” in bulk to the concerned authorities.
“We do not want airport but good schools, hospitals and a university," they wrote.
As far as connectivity is concerned, local say that Azamgarh is well connected through rail. Two airports, Varanasi and and Kushinagar, are located within 150 km from Azamgarh.
When asked about the compensation factor, an aggrieved farmer threw a counter question, “We will be given flats with compensation but where will the cattle go? Wil they also be shifted into a flat?”
Referring to the Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA), Rajiv Yadav said, “We have seen in MP and Gujarat…Those who were displaced 20 years ago due to Sardar Sarovar Dam project, are still fighting for the compensation”.
“One of my acquittances has constructed a new house. He spent more than 35 lakhs. Will the government compensate? No,” said Rajiv.
Meanwhile, sources in the government claimed that the AAI has already taken control of the airport. A report published in the Nav Bharat Times on September 13 says the proposal seeking funds has been sent to the government. After the sanctioning of the budget, the administration will talk to landowners to acquire land.
Observers believe that anti-airport agitation has the potential to snowball into a big social movement against the ruling party as upper castes which form the base of the BJP will be affected the most. No wonder the majority of the protesters taking part in the anti-airport agitation belong to the upper castes.