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Steel plants remain elusive, but farmers seek hike in relief

The KIADB acquired land from farmers, paying a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh per acre in 2010. Farmers say that during that time, land prices could go up to Rs 15 lakh per acre based on proximity to the main road.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 21:29 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 21:29 IST

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For more than 500 days, the farmers of Kudthini, Ballari district, have been staging a relay protest, demanding fair compensation and jobs after 10,381 acres of land were acquired by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) to set up three steel factories. One company has even backed out from setting up the steel plant, due to rising land costs.

“The lands have become barren and cannot be used for agricultural purposes now. The companies had also assured jobs to farmers’ families who gave up land. Today, we neither have our lands nor the jobs that were promised,” said M Venkataraju, one of the litigants in the case, who parted with nearly seven acres of land. 

The KIADB acquired land from farmers, paying a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to Rs 12 lakh per acre in 2010. Farmers say that during that time, land prices could go up to Rs 15 lakh per acre based on proximity to the main road. While farmers whose lands were not irrigated took the compensation fixed by the committee headed by the deputy commissioner in 2010, several farmers opposed the low compensation. In 2013, after the implementation of the Land Acquisition Act, the farmers demanded four times the market price, as mandated by the Act.

The land was acquired by KIADB for ArcelorMittal, Uttam Galva, and National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) in 2010. However, the industrial land has remained unutilised since then. Uttam Galva had sought and received three more years to set up a steel plant. The government-owned NMDC is negotiating terms for the lease. However, ArcelorMittal backed out from setting up the factory in February 2023, following the Supreme Court’s order. 

Legal battle

A district court in 2013 directed the KIADB and ArcelorMittal to pay a higher compensation, to the tune of Rs 1 crore per acre, based on current market rates. In January 2023, the Supreme Court upheld the district court’s verdict and instructed the company to pay higher compensation. 

The apex court had given the company 90 days to credit the money into farmers’ account, warning that it could not back off now after letting the land go barren for many years. About 1,500 farmers of Kudthini and Veniveerapur villages in Sandur taluk had given their 4,865.64 acres of land to ArcelorMittal. 

While many accepted the compensation, about 400 farmers did not want to give up their land. Today, nearly 83 farmers continue the legal battle and others have accepted out-of-court settlements.

Doddabasappa, an aggrieved farmer, says,”Despite the Supreme Court orders to pay compensation within 90 days, neither KIADB nor the company has honoured the orders even after 16 months. The only intention of defendants seems to be to keep the pot boiling,” he said.

Stalemate 

Sridhar, executive engineer of KIADB Ballari unit, said the Board could pay farmers only if the company honoured the judgement. “We have not heard anything from the company. The government is holding high-level meetings with company officials and also looking at legal remedies to help the farmers,” he said.

However, sources within KIADB, Bengaluru, say given the high price per acre, finding a way out has become difficult. “To develop one acre of land, the company will end up spending Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 crore. ArcelorMittal requires nearly 5,000 acres of land. Now the land itself would cost them Rs 10,000 crore (as against Rs 480 crore to Rs 600 crore). With such high land value, no company will come to Ballari to set up industries,” the source said. 

Sandur MLA E Tukaram says he is holding talks with government and company officials to find a middle ground to establish a steel plant and generate thousands of direct and indirect jobs. ArcelorMittal representatives refused to comment on the issue.

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Published 21 May 2024, 21:29 IST

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