Attari (India-Pakistan border): Hundreds of acres of fertile land that belong to India but fall outside its fenced border with Pakistan are now being acquired by the Punjab government, but farmers are fuming that they are getting only half the market price.
The land in question – nearly 130 acres of it – is being bought for setting up a special cargo and business gate and terminal on the Indian side of the Radcliffe line international border to boost trade between the two countries.‘We have started the process for acquisition of land for the new gate and cargo terminal,’ Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said.
The government has offered to pay Rs.2 million per acre as compensation for the land on the ‘other side’ whereas land along the highway at this border check-post here is fetching Rs.4.5 million per acre.
As a result, farmers who own this land are angry. They are asking why they should accept a lower price for their land when everyone stands to benefit from the increased trade.
‘We first suffered when our fertile lands were put on the other side of the fence. Farming suffered due to border restrictions. Now the government is itself offering less than half the price for our land across the fence compared to the Rs.4.5 million per acre being offered for land on this side of the fence. This is a discriminatory policy,’ farmer and landowner Shahbeg Singh of Roranwala Khurd village said.
The agricultural land concerned belongs to India but falls across the barbed wire fence that India erected along the international border over 15 years ago. India had fenced the Punjab frontier in the early 1990s to keep Sikh freedom fighters and smugglers at bay.
The fence was put up over 500 metres inside Indian territory as Pakistan was averse to such a fence, inflicting losses on farmers whose land fell on the ‘other side’.
‘We have not been freely allowed to grow crops on our own land across the fence since 1990. Farming is allowed only for a few hours by the Border Security Force (BSF) when farmers are allowed beyond the fence gates,’ farmer Balbir Singh pointed out.
‘We have suffered losses in agriculture and now the government wants to give a double blow by offering half the price for our land.’
A new gate is being readied at the border as the Rs.6 billion trade between the two sides is expected to grow by nearly five times. Trucks from both countries are being allowed in a limited way to cross the international border to unload cargo in the other country.
The truck trade commenced Oct 1 and the central and state governments expect the new gate and cargo terminal to be ready within one year.