Waquar Hasan | Clarion India
NEW DELHI – For around three months now, thousands of villagers in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district have been holding a sit-in to protest the government’s land acquisition plan. The government wants to acquire the land ostensibly to expand the dysfunctional Azamgarh airport.
According to protesters, an official has told them that the administration has conducted a survey of 670 acres of land to construct an international airport in Azamgarh’s Manduri.
Noted activist Rajiv Yadav, who is participating in the ongoing protest, told Clarion India over the phone that the sit-in began on 13 October when administration officials accompanied by police personnel began conducting the survey of the land and clashed with the villagers.
“Eight villages, around 4,000 homes and 20,000-25,000 people will be affected if the land is acquired. Several schools, an Anganwadi (rural child care centre), and one canal will disappear. There would be big displacement,” said Yadav.
Most of the affected people are from the oppressed castes, mostly landless. They do not want to lose whatever piece of the land they have. That’s why they are unwilling to surrender their land to the administration, he said.
Yadav said that when the villagers asked the officials as on what basis the land was being acquired and whether the administration has received any notification in this regard, they claimed that have notification from the higher-ups.
In 2005, Samajwadi Party government proposed to construct the airport in the area where an airstrip was also laid. However, soon it fell into disuse. In 2018, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced plans to expand the airport.
According to reports, in 2022, the Airports Authorities of India (AAI) signed an agreement for the upgradation and expansion of five airports owned by the Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh for a period of 30 years. These five airports are Aligarh, Azamgarh, Chitrakoot, Muirpur and Shravasti.
In a joint letter issued on Friday by Zameen-Makan Bachao Morcha, the villagers made it clear that they will not give their land for constructing the airport. The letter was sent to the President, Prime Minister, Civil Aviation Minister and other concerned authorities. The villagers are demanding from the government to withdraw the plan. They are also seeking the withdrawal of cases filed against the protesters.
“The villagers are in shock due to the actions taken by the administration to acquire the land illegally and unconstitutionally. So far 16 farmers have died for this reason,” reads the letter.
The villagers have received support from various civil and farmer groups and activists including Rakesh Tikait and Medha Patkar.