Farmers demand land compensation

SHILLONG, Nov 15 – If Chief Minister Mukul Sangma thought of gifting the people of Meghalaya the much-delayed and anticipated Shillong bypass before Christmas and just ahead of the State elections, he is in for surprises. Cleverly wrapping the over 20-year-old project as “the first project in the region, which is being completed one year ahead of the deadline,” Sangma apparently overlooked the history of the controversial, but much-needed project.

The project was conceptualised over 20 years back and work went on in an erratic manner during this period, mainly hit by land compensation issues. Deadlines for the project’s completion, therefore, were set time and again.

Now, no sooner had the Chief Minister announced the “gift to the people” recently, the land compensation issue has cropped up again. Farmers have threatened to stall the inauguration of the project if they are not compensated first. This time about 60 farmers in areas such as Diengpasoh, Mawryngkneng and Thadshalai are demanding that the Government must first compensate for the damage the construction company – GR Cheetak – caused by dumping soil on their agricultural land. They said that due to dumping of soil and quarrying, water canals to their paddy fields have been clogged.

Backed by the Khasi Students’ Union, the farmers have set November 30 as the deadline for the compensation. The Mawryngkneng circle of the students’ body has warned that the farmers would resort to agitation if they are not compensated before the inauguration of the project.

Incidentally, the National Highway Authority of India, which is the nodal agency for the project’s construction, is yet to assess the project report, which includes details of factors such as release of additional funds for damage to agricultural land as submitted by the administrations of the districts where the route runs through.

The Rs 220-crore project will ease the city traffic, which has visibly collapsed. The 50-km route will allow trucks plying from Guwahati to take a diversion from Umiam (Barapani) in Ri-Bhoi district, touching fringes of East Khasi Hills district and emerge at Mawryngkneng in Jaintia Hills enroute to Barak Valley, Mizoram and Manipur through National Highway 44.

A substantial chunk of the budget had to be kept aside for land compensation because in Meghalaya “land belongs to the people and clans” under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. But that seems to be inadequate at this juncture if Sangma wants to actually see the inauguration of the project just ahead of the Assembly polls, scheduled for early 2013.