Hundreds of agitating farmers are suspected to have set on fire a government warehouse in Unnao district on Sunday, demanding the Uttar Pradesh government return their land it had taken over for a city project that is yet to start even 15 years after the plots were acquired.
Eyewitnesses said thousands of huge plastic pipes kept on a ground adjacent to the warehouse of the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation (UPSIDC) caught fire quickly.
By the time police and the fire brigade reached the spot, around 20km from Unnao city, the warehouse was in flames.
It took the firefighters nearly three hours to control the blaze that left the warehouse partially burnt.
“The villagers first poured petrol and burnt the pipes on Sunday. Gradually, it (the fire) reached the nearby building. The farmers also attacked employees of the UPSIDC,” Rakesh Singh, additional district magistrate, Unnao, said.
Sunday’s incident came a day after more than 200 farmers and the police had clashed at the same spot in Kanhwapur, one of three villages where the then Samajwadi Party-led government, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, had acquired land between 2003 and 2004 to build the Trans-Ganga City.
The plan was to build the city over 1,144 acres in Kanhwapur, Shankarpur and Manbhawana and 1,580 farmers had given up 1,100 acres for the project with the promise of a house in the city, apart from adequate compensation. The remaining 44 acres was government land.
But the project has not taken off yet except for some beautification work such as parks that have come up.
The farmers now want their land back and the government to fulfil the “promise of resettlement of the affected families”. They also claim they were promised Rs 21 lakh for a bigha but have got only Rs 12.51 lakh a bigha. (One acre is approximately 3.12 bighas in Uttar Pradesh.)
On Sunday morning, over 200 farmers had gathered at the spot again. What appeared to have further incensed the farmers was the presence of some officials of the UP State Industrial Authority, a body of the UPSIDC, who had reached the spot to take physical possession of the land.
“We want the government to scrap this project because the promises have not been fulfilled even after so many years. The government had also promised us houses in the Tans-Ganga City but they have broken the promise,” Yogendra Singh, a farmer, said.
District magistrate Devendra Pandey said the land was acquired many years ago and the government had given “adequate compensation” to the farmers twice. “Those who are rioting are not farmers but anti-social elements.”
Singh, the additional district magistrate, said the “protesters had on Saturday pelted stones at the police when they were stopped from turning violent”.
“Vinod Pandey, additional superintendent of police, Anjani Kumar Rai, circle officer and 10 other policemen suffered injuries there. The police had also (resorted to a) lathi-charge in which some people got injured”, Singh told reporters, adding that over a dozen “rioters” had been detained. “We have filed cases against eight named and 200 unnamed rioters.”
Some farmers, who didn’t want to be identified, said the police had fired tear gas shells and even gunshots on Saturday and two injured farmers had been admitted to hospital but added that none had gunshot wounds.
Police officials refused to go on record but sources admitted the force had opened fire in the air to disperse the crowd.
Harendra Nigam, an absconding farmer leader, told local reporters from an unknown location that the police broke the lock of his house in Kanhwapur on Sunday and dragged out his 75-year-old mother. “They threatened they would kill me in an encounter,” he alleged.
Police officials denied the allegation.