His protest against land grabbers has been on for 13 years

May 24th, 2009 - 2:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Asit Srivastava
Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh), May 24 (IANS) How long can a sit-in protest continue? Vijay Kumar Singh, once a resident of an Uttar Pradesh village, has been at it for 13 years.

Singh, from Chausnna village in Muzaffarnagar district, about 300 km from Lucknow, was 34 when he decided to take on the land sharks of his village. He started a sit-in outside the district magistrate’s office in the Prakash Chowk locality of this district headquarter town.

He has been at that corner, complete with bag and baggage, since Feb 26, 1996.

“I go nowhere. You will always find me here. I chose this site as I thought it would help me to get my demands heard. You know all senior government officials visit here (district magistrate’s office),” Singh told IANS.

Singh’s main demand is that the authorities should free about 3,200 bigha (slightly over 1,000 acres) of public land in his village from the clutches of musclemen and other people with political clout.

“There are about 100 such land grabbers, including a former MLA (legislator) and his relatives, who have occupied the land belonging to the Gram Sabha (village council),” said Singh, who used to teach in a government-run educational institution but took voluntary retirement so that he could fight for the cause whole-time.

The land in question is worth Rs.800 million. According to Singh, several influential people of the village are illegally using the land for agriculture.

“Every year they (land grabbers) are earning lakhs of rupees in this manner,” he said.

Fondly referred to as ‘masterji’ in the village because of his old profession, Singh left the post of lecturer in Jai Bharat Inter College in 1994.

“I have been seeing the corruption in the village since my childhood and therefore decided to fight it. For this, I even quit my job as I was not able to dedicate myself to the cause,” said Singh.

His efforts have yielded some results.

Acting on Singh’s complaints, several inquiries have been conducted at various levels, “Besides the district authorities, even the CB-CID (Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department of the state government) has taken note of my complaints. In fact, in 2007 a portion of land, measuring about 300 bigha, was freed when I wrote a letter to Mayawati when she became chief minister.”

However, a more significant step against the illegal land grabbing is still awaited from the government, said Singh.

He has also appealed to the district authorities that after freeing the land from encroachers, it should be distributed among the poor and Scheduled Caste farmers in the village or given to public sector enterprises.

“Such a move will help fight poverty in the village. Imagine if the land is given to public sector enterprises for a project that would provide a number of job opportunities to unemployed and poor villagers,” said Singh.

District Magistrate Bhuvnesh Kumar confirmed that Singh has been staging the sit-in for over 13 years.

“We are aware of him and his campaign,” said Kumar. “It’s not that nothing has been done in Singh’s case. Being a part of the government machinery, we have to work in a procedural way. We are making steady efforts to free the land occupied illegally by influential persons of the village.”

(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at asit.s@ians.in)

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