Varanasi land grab, a brutal makeover of the holy city

Social unrest due to indiscriminate land acquisition is on the rise across eastern Uttar Pradesh, in fact. In nearby Azamgarh, an agitation has been in progress for the past year or more, with farmers on the warpath over the government’s insistence on acquiring 670 acres of land to expand the Mandur Azamgarh airstrip. This will require the bulldozing of only 4,000 homes across eight villages. The women of the village have been holding daily demonstrations in the Khiriya Bagh area of Azamgarh under a Makan Bachao Khet Bachao banner.

Several prominent farmers’ leaders and social workers, including Rakesh Tikait, Medha Patkar and Magsaysay-awardee Sandeep Pandey have come out in support of the farmers.

Addressing a gathering, Medha Patkar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements said the administration was violating provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. Per this law, Patkar points out, the administration must have the consent of 80 per cent of the local landowners to acquire any area.

Aflatoon, a social activist heading the Samajwadi Jan Parishad points out, “This indiscriminate land acquisition is destroying the soul of Varanasi, which has been a centre of learning and spiritual development over the centuries.”

But of course, a tourism hub that offers more headline grabs and photo ops, as well as possibly some useful electoral bonds, is easier to bank on, literally, than temples, stupas and universities. Those, especially the last, are dangerous breeding grounds for civil disobedience and rights activism, we hear.

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