Ayodhya, Feb 22, 2020: Nearly a month after the Ayodhya district administration put out a public notice saying close to 86 hectares would be acquired to build a Lord Ram statue and museum around 6 km from the Ram Janmabhoomi site in the town, villagers remain reluctant to part with their agricultural land.
The Uttar Pradesh government is planning a 251-metre high statue of Ram (making it the tallest in the world), along with a digital museum, on land situated along the Lucknow-Gorakhpur national highway. While the authorities have said 125 families would be affected, and 66 pucca houses apart from hutments demolished, the villagers of Majha Barhata gram sabha put the number at more than 300 families and around a hundred pucca houses.
The January 25 notice by the district administration mentioned 86 hectares and 259 landowners in the Yadav-dominated gram sabha, giving them 15 days to register objections. Officials said they had received close to 200 complaints, and the process to address them had started.
In the budget tabled in the Assembly on Tuesday, the state government set aside nearly Rs 600 crore to develop Ayodhya as a major tourist site, including an airport and a Tulsidas memorial.
Around 40 per cent of the land being acquired for the statue and museum belongs to the little-known Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust, with headquarters in Delhi and branches reportedly across 27 countries, and the authorities have its clearance to acquire it. The remaining land comprises small plots owned by farmers.
While the administration has promised proper compensation as well as alternative plots, locals, some of whom have been living in the area for more than 100 years, ask why the statue can’t be built elsewhere.
In a letter to Ayodhya District Magistrate (DM) Anuj Kumar Jha, locals cited the non-farming land around, including some owned by saints, and said they would be left with no source of livelihood if their lands were taken. The letter added, “There has been no social impact assessment study. In addition to this, we have been given just 15 days to register our objections instead of 60 days mentioned in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. As per the Act, land has to be acquired by mutual agreement, but only objections related to updating of land-related documents have been invited and consent has not been taken.”
Jha remained unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
Majha Barhata pradhan Ram Chandra Yadav said, “There are three villages in the gram sabha and we won’t let them take anything. We will go to the High Court and Supreme Court, do whatever it takes.”
Accusing the Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust of acquiring land by stealth, Arvind Yadav, a 30-year-old farmer, said, “In 1992, the Trust came and told people they were going to build schools and hospitals. Our elders were mostly illiterate and sold them land around the main village. While nothing materialised, they got in and have been buying and selling land since.”
Former pradhan Rajmani Yadav said villagers don’t know how to fight the powerful Trust, and accuses it of having built just one school and that too for Brahmin students to learn the Vedas.
Majha area Lekhpal Lakshmi Shankar Srivastava, a land revenue official involved in the acquisition process, confirmed that the Trust had initially purchased land to open schools and hospitals.
Regional Tourism Officer R P Yadav, appointed by the government for the land acquisition, said they don’t anticipate problems because of the Trust’s cooperation. He added that Rs 100 crore sanctioned for land acquisition was already in.
Lekhpal Srivastava said there was no question of the “noble project” not going through, with “around 60 per cent farmers” having agreed and “around 80 per cent of those protesting living illegally”. Hinting that the villagers who resist could face action, he added, “The situation is that land is of one person but another has occupied it... Some villagers are also involved in illegal sand mining. There are fake entries. At present we are requesting, but once checking of all this starts, all will comply.”
Srivastava suggested that the project might become even “bigger” and “we may need more land”. “I want to add that even the rate we are giving might go higher as the present rates are of 2017,” he said, adding they were already giving “two-three times the price of a house”.
Among those apprehensive is Mohammad Hashim, 37, the head of the only Muslim family living on the 86 hectares. His name was not in the list of landowners in the public notice. Hashim said he did not know how and where to complain. “We are eight members. We have been living here more than 100 years and this is our fourth generation. Only around 10 years ago we built a pucca house. Can anyone imagine our pain?” Hashim’s wife Shareefun Nisha said.
Amarjeet Yadav, 24, a local, added that while no one was against a Ram statue, could a religion allow a temple after demolishing someone’s house. “How will we go pray in front of a statue constructed like this?”