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Majha Barhata, Ayodhya: Villagers claim, govt took consent by force to install ‘world’s tallest’ Ram statue in UP

By Rohit Upadhyay
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publive-image The picturesque Majha Barhata village, in Ayodhya, UP | Pic courtesy: The Probe team

The UP government’s decision to install the world’s tallest statue of Ram in Ayodhya is being opposed by villagers of Majha Barhata, a picturesque village in Ayodhya district of UP, which is just ten kilometres away from the controversial Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site.

Speaking to The Probe, the villagers said that they were very happy when the Supreme Court judgment came in favour of construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya’s disputed site in 2019 but little did they know that their land would be acquired to give shape to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s pet project.

Arvind Kumar Yadav, Vice President, Bhartiya Kisan Union | Video courtesy: The Probe team

Arvind Kumar Yadav, the man who has been leading the protest against the land acquisition on behalf of the villagers spoke to The Probe. He is also the Vice President of Bhartiya Kisan Union. “After the government issued the notification, we moved the High Court. They started torturing us. They filed FIRs against us. When there were no roads in this village and when this was a jungle, our forefathers came here and started farming. Today, the government wants to build a statue and send us back to some other jungle. There is no sense of justice. Is there?” said an angry Arvind.

The proposed statue of hindu deity Ram is touted to be the world’s tallest statue with a towering height of 251 metres. Currently, the tallest statue in the world is the giant sculpture of Gautam Buddha in China which stands at a height of 208 metres. In India, Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity stands tall at 182 metres. But the villagers in Majha Barhata told our team that the government cannot boast of building the tallest statue in the world by uprooting the farmers from their farm lands.

publive-image Life in Majha Barhata | Pic courtesy: The Probe team

“The government wants to build a tall statue and boast about their achievement. That’s fine. But why my land? They have not made the circle late yet. There has been so much corruption. But they have not ordered an inquiry. The people here are not literate, so, they befooled the people and they acquired their land. We are farmers. Our entire life depends on farming,” said Brijesh Yadav, a farmer in Majha Barhata.

publive-image Life in Majha Barhata | Pic courtesy: The Probe team

The proposed statue is estimated to cost a whopping rupees 3000 crore and will come up in a 100 acre land on the banks of Sarayu river in Ayodhya along the Lucknow-Gorakhpur national highway.

The UP government in a statement had also said earlier that along with the giant statue, a digital museum is expected to come up at the site. While the district administration has maintained that close to 100 families would be affected because of the development works in the area, the villagers told The Probe that at least 3000 people are going to be affected because of these developments.

Ramchandra Yadav, a resident of Majha Barhata told The Probe that he was forcibly taken to the District Magistrate’s office and was hurled abuses for not giving his written consent for the acquisition. “They would take me in front of the District Magistrate and they would shout at me and ask me to speak to the villagers and get their consent. The cops have troubled me a lot. The officials would phone me up and ask me for my location and immediately after that the cops would reach the spot and take me into their custody,” said Ramchandra Yadav.

Ramchandra Yadav, ex village head of Majha Barhata | Video courtesy: The Probe team

Following continuous pressure from the district administration’s side, Ramchandra Yadav said that he decided to sign the papers. “I finally decided to sign the papers. They forced me to sign it. I used to be the village head. My wife is the village chief now. Can you imagine, if this is happening to us, what would be the plight of the other villagers?,” said Yadav.

Yadav told us that the villagers blamed his family for succumbing to pressure and for signing the documents. “They were very angry with me. They asked me how I could have signed the papers as my family was heading the village. But what could I have done? I was under too much pressure. Many more villagers had signed the papers like me after the district authorities exerted pressure on them too. I didn’t get any compensation for my land till date. They just took my signatures. That’s all. They stopped troubling me after I signed the documents.”

The villagers like Ramchandra Yadav are protesting to get their land restored so that they could continue farming. Agriculture is one of the predominant occupations of people of Majha Barhata. The villagers feel that it was unnecessary to uproot them for a cause that is as trivial as the installation of a statue.

The farmers are also miffed at a 2020 government notification issued by the District Magistrate’s office that stated that 85.977 hectares of land will be acquired in Majha Barhata for the construction of the proposed Ram statue.

Speaking to The Probe, some villagers alleged that following this notification many more officials from the district administration paid several visits to the village and informed the farmers that there was a plan underway to acquire more land than the previously agreed 85 hectares.

Ajay Yadav, a resident of Majha Barhata | Video courtesy: The Probe team

The villagers had filed a petition before the Allahabad High Court against the land acquisition. The court in 2020 directed the UP government to follow due procedures in accordance with the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013.

“They are forcibly acquiring our land. We are being threatened by the district authorities. That is why Bhartiya Kisan Union’s leader Arvind Yadav has filed a petition in the High court on all our behalf. They are pressuring not just Arvind Yadav but also our village pradhan. They are filing cases under the Goonda Act and building pressure. We have been demanding that the government must follow due procedures as per the 2013 Land Acquisition Act and protect our interests too,” said Ajay Yadav, a farmer in Majha Barhata.

Remembering his childhood and his great grandparents, Ajay Yadav said: “We have been living here since generations. My ancestors lived here. How can we just give away what is ours? And all this for building a statue? Human life in flesh and blood has lesser value than a lifeless statue?”

Ram Bahadur, a resident of Majha Barhata | Video courtesy: The Probe team

Ram Bahadur, another farmer in the village said that his entire family's livelihood depends on farming and his farm too is part of the land that is going to be acquired. “Since generations, we have been living here and farming on these lands. Our ancestors have lived and died here. Now, they want to take our lands. We have huge families and too many debts. Where do we go?”

Mukesh Yadav, a resident of Majha Barhata | Video courtesy: The Probe team

When we spoke to the district administration, we were told that the authorities will hold a dialogue with all the villagers and then based on majority consent the decision would be taken to acquire their lands. But the villagers told us so far no such gathering has taken place.

“No, I am not aware of any such meeting where they tried to create a common consensus. We don’t want to give away our lands. The farmers who want to give away their lands can give but those who don’t want to give away their land must not be forced. How can the land be acquired when 90 percent of the villagers have refused to hand over their lands?” said Mukesh Yadav, another resident of the village.

The villagers have alleged that cases have been slammed against farmers who have refused to sign on the dotted line. Cases have been registered against the leaders of the protest and the farmers claim that FIRs have also been registered against 200 unknown people for protesting in violation of rules. The villagers said that so far they haven’t got a written assurance from the government regarding survey, compensation or rehabilitation.

Laddulal Yadav, former village chieftain | Video courtesy: The Probe team

Laddulal Yadav, who used to be the village chieftain, told The Probe that in the 1990s, the world famous yoga guru Mahesh Yogi had come to the village. The Trust founded by Mahesh Yogi, the Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust had allegedly acquired the land from the farmers by promising them that schools, colleges and hospitals would be built at the site.

“Our families had earlier handed over the land to the Trust hoping that they would build some schools and colleges for our children as promised. But today the Trust has handed over the land to the government while the rest of us are trying to protest this illegal acquisition of our land by force. Those who come here and threaten us and try to forcibly acquire our land must be booked,” said Laddulal Yadav.

Laddulal told us that hectic negotiations took place between the Trust and the district administration and then the Trust finally decided to hand over the land that was in its possession for the construction of the Ram statue. “I don’t want people to be uprooted. If they are displacing people then the farmers must be rehabilitated in a place that has all facilities so that our children don’t have to suffer for basic amenities,” said Yadav.

Ram Yadav, former village chieftain | Video courtesy: The Probe team

Ram Yadav, a farmer from Majha Barhata said a large chunk of the village land was given to the Maharishi Ramayan Vidyapeeth Trust. “Mahesh Yogi gave us big dreams that schools will be opened in our village. We were illiterate. Many of us had not gone to school in our childhood. We thought that at least our children will get smarter through education in the new school and we all got influenced and decided to handover our land to the Trust. But now we feel cheated.”

The farmers have complained that the government had given them only 15 days’ time to register their objections over the acquisition of their land. The land owners claim that though the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 mentions that owners must be given at least 60 days time to raise an objection, the Ayodhya district authorities only gave them a few days.

Hundreds of farmers have written to the district authorities raising their objections over the arbitrary manner in which the government is going about acquiring their land but they are yet to get a response from the administration.

“Whenever Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath comes here, they put us under house arrest. Can we not meet our Chief Minister and raise our grievances? I have been beaten up. They have put me under house arrest today also. They have registered a case against me. They don’t let me go out. They have slammed a charge under the Goonda Act against me,” said Arvind Yadav who has been leading the protests against the land acquisition.

The UP Chief Minister had announced this project in 2017. Since then, the land prices have soared in Majha Barhata. After the Supreme Court’s judgment giving clearance to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the real estate sector also boomed in Ayodhya district. Many property dealers have told The Probe that since 2019, the property prices have soared in a radius of 10 kilometres around the temple.

“The government has not conducted a social impact assessment study. Majha Barhata is a village of farmers. Majority of the villagers indulge in farming and they depend on their farm income for their livelihood. If the government conducts an impact assessment study they will get to know the extent of damage this proposed statue is going to cause to the farmers. My appeal to the government is that please do a survey and please record the population of these small village units. Please ensure that the people are taken into confidence when an important decision that is going to affect their life is going to be taken,” stated Arvind Yadav.

The Probe spoke to Bhan Singh, Assistant Records Officer (ARO) in Ayodhya. On the question related to why the survey was not conducted for the land from the last 35 years, he said “The farmers don’t know how long it takes to get a survey done. The court has given time till 2022, so what? We will inform the court that we need another one year time to get the survey done. All this work involves time.”

Bhan Singh also told our team that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Trust has decided to hand over their share of the land in Majha Barhata to the government’s Avas Vikas Parishad. When asked how can the government acquire land without conducting a survey, Bhan singh replied by saying that the matter will be decided by Avas Vikas Parishad.

Our team also spoke to Om Prakash Pandey, an official with the Avas Vikas Parishad in Ayodhya. He stated: “We have started the process of acquiring land from the farmers and the landowners in Majha Barhata. All the land owners are cooperating with us and there is absolutely no dissent. Nobody is opposing this”.

Speaking to The Probe, Praveen Kumar, a Tehesildar with the Avas Vikas Parishad said there was no opposition from the farmers. When asked about the survey of the land, he retorted, “We will acquire the land on the basis of the 1984 survey. All the farmers have been cooperating with us. They have decided to handover their lands to us. We have already started the procedures”.

The farmers have told The Probe that so far the government has not given them anything in writing regarding the compensation plan or the rehabilitation strategy of the government. The farmers have said that taking away their lands without even conducting a survey of the land is a gross violation of the law. While the government officials have told us that they will seek more time from the court to conduct the survey, the farmers say that the procedure to acquire the land must be put on hold till the time the survey is completed and a comprehensive plan is placed before the farmers to get their approval.

The villagers in Majha Barhata claim that in the days to come, they will gather villagers from the other village units within Majha Barhata and chalk out a strategy to raise their concerns with the government.

“I am again saying to you, we are also devotees of lord Ram. We are not against the statue. But please ask the government, will the lord itself want his devotees to be displaced so that his statue could be built. The government should focus on creating employment for our youth and giving facilities to farmers. This is an unnecessary controversy. The UP elections are nearing. I don’t think the district administration should threaten people like this. Even the votes of the people of Majha Barhata counts,” said Arvind Yadav.