AGRA: Having locked horns with the government, they came out as winners after a two-year-long pitched legal battle.
The residents of Nagla Chitey, a settlement of about 300 people in Bachhela Bachheli village of Firozabad, fought for their rights collectively and emerged victorious.
All was well till November 2015. About a year earlier, the government had entered into a deal with the villagers to acquire their land for the construction of a greenfield project, the Agra-Lucknow Expressway.
Villagers willingly surrendered their land as they were being offered amounts in the range of Rs 800/sq mt to Rs 8,000/ sq mt. This was the rate offered for land under ‘abadi’ (area under habitation) category.
Over the next few months, the money was transferred into bank accounts of land-owning villagers. Families became self-sufficient and utilized the money for various purposes.
“I bought a motorcycle worth Rs 75,000 and got my house constructed properly,” said Naresh Baghel, a former village pradhan of Nagla Chitey. Others, too, had similar stories of better fortune the expressway had blessed them with.
Just when the villagers thought that a turnaround point in their lives had arrived, revenue officers came knocking on their doors, this time with not-so-good news.
Claiming that the villagers had been paid up to three times ‘higher’ compensation, the Firozabad district administration served recovery notices to 22 villagers.
“They came as unwelcome guests and started threatening us with criminal action,” said Jaiveer Singh, another villager.
Stating that their land was agricultural and not abadi, the group of 22 villagers was asked to return the ‘excess’ amount paid as compensation with interest.
The notice, on November 23, 2015, even held these villagers guilty of fraud and of causing loss to the government. As most villagers had already invested a significant portion of the amount they received in something or the other, the only option was to face legal action or go into hiding.
“It is not easy to take on the administration. We argued with the lekhpal, deputy collector and other authorities. What was the need to execute a sale deed with us without their homework? Were they not aware what our land title was?” said Phulwasa Devi, part of the group which faced the administration’s wrath.
United by the common cause, the villagers decided to battle it out and petitioned the Allahabad high court against the order. Justifying its move, the administration told the court that employees of the department of consolidation had colluded with the group of 22 and notified the land as ‘abadi’ fraudulently.
The court however, quashed the recovery notice dubbing it as ‘wholly illegal and without any authority of law’ on November 28, 2016.
From then on, the villagers have lived peacefully, as far as their ‘hard-earned’ money is concerned.