Anithamma, a 30-year old agricultural labourer from Bommanahalli village in Devanahalli taluk, travels to the neighbouring village of Polanhalli to work on a tomato farm. She is accompanied by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law who also work on the farm, earning Rs 350 each, to feed a family of 10. Meanwhile, her husband attends to the cattle and takes care of his aged father.
Devanahalli is located about 40 kilometers from Bengaluru. Farmers of the village supply huge quantities of vegetables and fruits to Bengaluru's core city.
“I fear that we will be out of employment very soon. The government is taking away the land for building big industries and the land owners will be compensated. But, what about us? Where do we go for work, there is no land anymore,” complained Anithamma, as she spoke to The Quint.
Anithamma's family is now on protest path, against Karnataka government's industries and commerce department, even as they work on the farmland for a living everyday.
Why Are Devanahalli Farmers Protesting?
The struggle of these landless farm labourers will be further heightened with the Karnataka government trying to float a global tender inviting industries to open factories in Devanahalli.
The Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) which is part of Department of Industries and Commerce is all set to acquire 1,777 acres of land from 13 villages in the Channarayapatna Hobli in Devanahalli to set up an industrial area in Haraluru.
Anithamma works on a farm owned by Pramod Kumar, who has also been served a preliminary notice by the government to give up his three acres of land. The farmer who cultivates tomatoes and grapes, has also faced severe losses due to excessive rainfall in the last few months.
That is, from a landless farm labourer to a land owning farmer, the land acquisition has affected scores of agriculturists.
"We cannot give up this land and go elsewhere. The government might have promised compensation, but where can we buy land if the real estate prices are rising exponentially?"Pramod Kumar, Farmer
Eighty Two Days of Protest
A total of 900 families are expected to be directly affected by the land acquisition and 387 families may be completely landless if KIADB goes ahead with the Haraluru industrial area project.
Despite the government promising them Rs 1.1 Cr per acre as compensation, the farmers from 13 different villages have been agitating and holding a sit-in protest for the past 81 days in front of government office in Channarayapattna village.
The gazette notification for the acquisition process was issued on 27 August 2021 and the farmers were given notice about the same in January 2022. The government also called for an objection hearing, but the farmers whom The Quint spoke to had not attended this hearing, they said, as it was "held in Bengaluru during the COVID-19 third wave."
Farmers in Devanahalli are also angry that they were not consulted before the state government decided to acquire their land.
Like many other farmers from the 13 villages, N Muniraja of Polanhalli also balances working at the farm, running errands at home, and also effectively participating in the protests against the state government.
Speaking to The Quint, Muirajanna said, “We are a family of eight and I own a property of 32 guntas (0.75 acre). We are completely dependent on the farm land. We grow silk, have two cows and get by with what we have. Now, the government wants to acquire our land completely. I am not educated and do not posses any other skills. Where else can I find employment? So we demand that the government rollback this decision.”
Not First Time Land Acquisition
Earlier in 2018-19, the KIADB had acquired 1282 acres of land as a part of its first phase of land acquisition for developing Haraluru industrial area. Though the farmers were promised Rs.1.1 crore per acre, even back then, over 50 percent of them are yet to get their compensations.
Speaking to The Quint, A Devaraj, a 44 year old farmer from Muddenhalli said:
“I feel helpless. They have taken away my two acres of land during the first phase of acquisition. As of now, a road has been constructed over 75 percent of my land and I don’t know when I will get the compensation. They (government) claim that they will get us jobs in the factories, but no company has occupied the land yet, and I have no hope (about landing a job in) the companies that are going to come here.”
Apart from the land acquired for the development of an international airport, the villages in Channarayapatna Hobli lost over 900 acres to the development of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 2013. Again, in 2018-19, the villages lost 1282 acres of land for the development of Haraluru industrial area. In total, the 13 villages have lost over 5,000 acres land.