Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Part 2: Mumbai 'farmers' grow money on land

IT'S A RICH MAN'S WORLD Mumbai 'farmers' grow money on land


Given India’s agrarian economy, it is likely that the ancestors of each of us were farmers. But many of Mumbai’s rich and famous have used that fact to prove by default their farmer status and buy forest land.

While actor Amitabh Bachchan’s farmer status raised a controversy after media reports that he had purchased 20 acres of farmland in Pavna village in 2000, it is now known that many more ‘farmers’ hold sizeable land in Maval, Mulshi and Pavna villages.

Thespian Dilip Kumar owns 221 acres in Kurvande village.

He has a bungalow there, complete with water bodies and sprawling lawns. Through his partner Col. Baldev Singh Bhatti (Retd), Dilip Kumar is developing a major portion of the land to build villas for sale.

Col. Bhatti told Sakaal Times, “The land was purchased in 1981, and the house built shortly thereafter. Most of it is grassland, some of it being of semi-agricultural variety. Dilipsaab had produced his farmer documents at the time of purchasing it. “ Talathi Kalbhor said, “ Dilip Kumar’s documents showed that his family was into farming in Peshawar (now Pakistan).” In Kurvande village is actor Kanwaljeet Singh’s sprawling home. Further down the road are several more lush bungalows belonging to film personalities and businessmen.

People objecting to tower blocks in Mumbai on forestland have obviously not visited Mulshi. Levelling of hills and cutting down of trees are rampant here to make way for private housing or vacation resorts. The construction industry is booming in many villages. Most of the owners are from Mumbai.

Pavna taluka is simmering because of an unusual type of land acquisition. Over 1,000 acres of semi-agricultural surplus land was leased to private parties after 1995 for irrigation purposes, although, according to a 1978 policy decision of the State, unused surplus land should be returned to the farmers. “However, according to a 1995 Supreme Court order in a case from Kerala, there is no need to return the land if it was used for public purposes by the state or was auctioned,” says local activist Vikas Thakar.

The mistake the farmers committed was to delegate development rights to the land agents. “The agents exploited the farmers to the hilt. The result is that there is hardly any farming activity in the region any more,” says local resident Kisan Kalekar.

Sixty Pavna plots were leased in 1995 for Rs 20,000 for five years. “They were leased for farming or developing nurseries. The lease has now expired. But there has been no farming,” Thakar says.

Only farmers have been the losers in these transactions.

“They were given Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 per acre. Now the developer is selling at Rs 20 lakh and more per acre, “ says Thakar. The most expensive land is priced at as high as a crore of rupees per acre or even more.

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