New Delhi: Three years have gone by, but not an inch of land for the construction of the 251-metre Lord Ram statue — touted to be the tallest in the world — has been acquired yet by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh.
The construction of the statue, which will be taller than the 183-metre Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Gujarat, was announced by Chief Minister Adityanath soon after coming to power in 2017.
The statue — estimated to cost around Rs 3,000 crore — will come up on a 100-acre land on the banks of Sarayu river in Ayodhya along the Lucknow-Gorakhpur national highway. This will be another landmark in Ayodhya, besides the Ram temple, whose construction will begin soon after the bhoomi pujan ceremony on 5 August.
The acquisition of land for the construction of the Ram statue is stuck due to protest by local residents and farmers, and the administration’s own flip-flops over selecting land.
Notices and court directions
In January this year, the Ayodhya administration issued a notification for the acquisition of 86 hectares of land in Majha Barhata and adjoining villages to build the statue and a museum around 6 km from the Ram Janambhoomi site.
The notice mentioned that 125 families and 66 pucca houses will be affected and gave the villagers 15 days’ time to register their objections. Following this, farmers of the village moved the Allahabad High Court against the notice.
The high court instructed the state government to follow the due process mandated under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. Under the Act, 60 days of time should be given to the land owners, but the Ayodhya administration only gave 15 days.
Also, the Act says that land has to be acquired with mutual agreement, but the administration had in the notice only sought objections related to land-related documents, and consent was not taken.
The administration received 200 complaints from farmers after issuing the notice, and it is currently working on them.
In June, the farmers of Majha Barhata and other villages again approached the Allahabad High Court for clear instructions in the matter. The court then told the administration to conduct mapping of the agricultural lands, residential land, the number of trees, livestock etc.
An Ayodhya district administration official, who didn’t want to be named, told ThePrint: “Problem is that many of the villagers don’t have papers, but the lands are under their unauthorised control for hundreds of years.”
“They are asking for more compensation than the government’s set rule. They are asking for job for their family members. Due to opposition from the villagers, the administration has not been able to reach an agreement with them so far,” he added.
The best possible scenario is to purchase land with mutual agreement, but the farmers are not ready to part with their land at the rate of compensation offered by the government, the official said.
“Many farmers have reservation about selling their land, while many do not possess land records. We are sorting out these issues,” he added.
Villagers, meanwhile, said the administration wants to acquire land without paying proper compensation.
“They have cheated earlier by including these villages under (Ayodhya) Nagar Nigam (from gram sabha) so that they have to give less compensation,” said a villager, asking: “Why Lord Ram will want to dislocate us for his statue?”
Land of Maharishi trust
Most of the 86 hectares of land, which the government had notified in January, belong to Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust. And most of these hectares were donated to the trust by villagers of Majha Barhata and adjoining areas in 1994-95 for construction of schools and hospitals.
The trust agreed to hand over land to the government for the construction of the statue, but villagers said the administration is “conniving” with the trust to “bulldoze” them.
“Our father donated this land to the trust for construction of schools and hospitals in 1994, but nothing has happened. The trust should return our land but the administration is conniving with the trust to snatch our land,” said Arvind Yadav, a farmer.
“First, they converted gram sabha land into municipality land to avoid paying more compensation, and now, they are using the trust to bulldoze small land holders,” he said.
The state government in 2019 had selected another piece of land near Sarayu river on the National Highway-28 close to Mirapur-Doaba railway bridge. A notification was issued in June to acquire 24 hectares of land.
Here too, the acquisition met with protests by local residents, farmers and even saints as five temples and more than 165 houses, among others, were located on the land.
The government, however, later cancelled the notification after a technical feasibility study report found that the statue will be affected in the long run due to the railway line.
Also read: Ram Mandir is so 1992 and Modi knows it
Govt hopeful about sorting out acquisition issues
The Uttar Pradesh cabinet last November allotted Rs 447 crore for acquisition of 61 hectares of land for the statue. Earlier, the government had cleared Rs 200 crore for the “preparation of the project”.
Ayodhya Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay told ThePrint: “There is a problem in acquisition of land, but the district administration is trying to resolve this by mutual understanding and patient hearing of the farmers’ complaints.”
A second Ayodhya administration official told ThePrint that since land acquisition is a sensitive matter, the chief minister doesn’t want to take a chance.
“That is why he is taking time. Otherwise, the state government can acquire land by applying special clauses,” the official added.
J.P. Singh, Additional District Magistrate (Law and Order), Ayodhya, and in-charge of land acquisition, told ThePrint they could also identify other locations.
“The government has power to acquire land for special purposes if the (current) settlement with farmers does not move further,” he said.
Tourism Minister Neelkanth Tiwari told ThePrint the government is committed to fulfilling the promise of constructing the Ram statue.
“This will be a grand project. There are a few difficulties over land acquisition, which the administration is trying to sort out. Very soon we will move in this direction,” he added.
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