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Jhajjar SEZ has farmers in two minds

Rituparna Bhuyan  |  Jhajjar (Haryana) 

Kishan Kumar was a happy man a year ago, having pocketed more than Rs 4 crore from selling nearly 20 acres of fertile land to Reliance Industries Ltd for its 12,355-acre Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Jhajjar and Gurgaon districts of Haryana.
Today, he is one of the many landowners in the area who look back at the transaction in regret.
"I would have been better off had I not sold my land. Frankly, when my neighbours started selling land to Reliance at Rs 22 lakh per acre, I was lured into it and sold 20 of my 32 acres," said Kumar, a farmer from Dadri-Toye village in Jhajjar district. He used to earn an annual income of nearly Rs 10 lakh from his land.
Kumar's lament is a small example of a dilemma farmers across India face as companies approach them for land for industrial projects.
The price surge at Jhajjar has more to do with skyrocketing land prices near the SEZ site plus a recent rumour that the Haryana government may increase the minimum price for land acquisition to more than Rs 55 lakh per acre.
Sat Pal, whose family had sold more than six acres of land in Ladpur village, has the same story to tell.
"If the land acquisition prices go up, my family can do nothing but regret the decision to sell their land. Had we waited like others, we would have got more than double the money," he said.
He added that most of the farmers who have sold their land were either in need of money or had plots that were not very productive.
Property brokers estimate that Reliance has already bought around 9,000 acres of land in the region, which the company declined to confirm.
And the impact has been significant. Property dealers in Jhajjar and Sultanpur said that land prices adjoining the SEZ site have doubled, and in some areas trebled.

"In Sultanpur, plots near the road are going for more than Rs 1 crore an acre, up from around Rs 45 lakh per acre. It's the same story in places like Garhi plots are going in the range of Rs 60 lakh to 80 lakh per acre from Rs 20 lakh to 25 lakh per acre. In Pataudi, farm plots are going for up to Rs 40 lakh an acre," said a property dealer based in Sultanpur.

Kishan Kumar and early sellers may be complaining of lost opportunities but there are many signs of new-found affluence in Jhajjar and surrounding areas. Yesterday's chief transport, the community tractor, has been jettisoned in favour of Maruti Altos and even the upmarket Honda SRV.

Meanwhile, bankers in Jhajjar confirm that deposits have doubled in the past one year. So much so that State Bank of India and Indian Bank have added this once sleepy town in their branch network.

"Deposits in Punjab and Sindh Bank touched Rs 180 crore. But in the past couple of months, many people have withdrawn money to invest in other source like land and real estate," said a banker in Jhajjar.

Indeed, Kishan Kumar has bought nearly 8 acres of land in Pataudi near Jhajjar, and will use it for farming. Just like him, many farmers are buying farm plots as far as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

But signs of tensions are already brewing. Despite the visible lifestyle changes of those farmers who sold land, there are many who are opting not to sell "" and not just because they anticipate higher prices later.

For instance, Kishan Kumar's friend Suresh Kumar has decided not to sell his land and stick to farming. "I have no idea about handling large sums of money and farming is the only skill I know. I will not sell my land to Reliance and the state government will have to acquire it from me," he said.

Suresh claims there are others in his village who are not going to sell their land to Reliance at any cost.

Indeed, Kishan Kumar said his friends and family have decided not to sell their land to Reliance. "There has not been any major land deals for the past three four months in my village or the surrounding area," he said.

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First Published: Sat, March 22 2008. 00:00 IST