Lakhimpur Kheri Villagers against Land Grab

Thousands of small farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri are fighting a valiant struggle to save their lands from acquisition by the forest department. They have lived here since a long time and had even been paying taxes to the local kings and zamindars long before the independence. After so many decades now the forest department is ‘reclaiming’ those lands because these farmers' lands have not been recorded by the revenue department which is a criminal neglect and inhuman act.

Many thousands are on the verge of losing their lands and livelihoods which were under cultivation by them as well as their forefathers. They are fighting a long legal battle as well protesting on the streets. The forest department is at a legal advantage with the help of many documents which these peasants lack despite their genuine, moral and constitutional claim, which is an irony. The government in UP is undermining the constitutional and legal rights of these citizens who deserve to be provided with documentary evidence over their lands, or at least a proper and adequate rehabilitation by taking into account their existing lands and social status and a secure future. The villagers fear their lands will be taken in the name of forest conservation but can be given away to the private corporations as is happening in many parts of the country.

Poor villagers living on the margins of forests have always been playing a role in forest conservation. In Lakhimpur Kheri 32 villages are being sought to be evicted by the forest department, in addition many more villages are also facing oppression and exploitation in the name of the buffer zone.

One such village, Mudha Bujurg, on the banks of Sharda river was inhabited by one erstwhile king before independence. Post independence the king handed that land over to the forest department. The local village head (pradhan) immediately held a gram sabha which passed an objection that was later duly conveyed to the government. Although all villagers continued to till their lands. Since then three generations have passed but this village is struggling for the lands which are their own. None of the governments tried to resolve this matter in favour of the farmers.

In 2006 after the enactment of Forest Rights Act the Lucknow bench of the High Court ordered the government to constitute a gram sabha as per the Act, but the UP government never issued land pattas to the occupants as was required. When the Yogi government came to power the attacks by the forest dept. increased manifold in spite of the High Court order of no forcible eviction. The Yogi government is using police force to demarcate the boundaries and seizing the agricultural appliances and tractors of farmers.

Similar is the story of many more villages. Another village is Kranti Nagar which came into existence after the Sarda Sagar Project displaced a large number of people in 1976. Most of the people were not rehabilitated by the then government, who came to live on this side of the forest. They have been demanding their rehabilitation since decades but now again they are being displaced.

Narang village has been there from much before independence, most of the houses are pukka, have electricity, and their names in voter lists since then. They had no idea when their lands and houses became forest lands. They have been served them eviction notices recently.

Another such village is Suabojh which is incidentally the largest gram sabha in Lakhimpur Kheri district with 15000 population. Jawahar Lal, leader of All India Kisan Mahasabha says that before independence villagers used to pay Lagaan (land tax) to the erstwhile king at the rate of Rs 9 per acre. Later in free India they were declared landowners after the Zamindari Abolition Act came into force. But now this land too is being claimed by the forest dept. and the process for issuing eviction notices is underway.

The administrative machinery is using the provisions of the law to evict the farmers which otherwise would have been meant to protect them. The forest department has demanded occupation over 2290 acres of land from the revenue department claiming it forest lands on the basis of some 1950 notification nobody was aware that it really existed, or is that still relevant. Moreover, the hearing to this matter is being held under the judicial powers of the forest officials, which means that the judgement will be made by the claimant itself!

In Basahi village the agricultural lands of nearly 200 families have already been taken away by the forest department, now they are targeting bulldozers over their homes.

While the government is using obsolete and obscure documentary evidence to displace thousands of farmers using brutal oppression by the police, affected people in many villages are rising against this move.

People of villages like Mudha Bujurg, Suabojh and Narang are uniting in resistance. Now they are resisting forest officials and police who try to seize their tractors and other belongings. They are also fighting a legal battle in courts. Last December they protested the seizure of the tractor and trolley of Jagadish Yadav and held a 17 kilometre march on foot. Thousands of people joined this march and also began an indefinite sit-in protest. They forced the forest officials to retreat when the latter tried to measure and demarcate the lands of Mudha Bujurg.
The All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM) held a protest at the district headquarters on 9-10 January demanding land rights to all peasant families in all affected villages and stopping the oppression by the forest department. 

The state president of AIKM Jai Prakash Narayan addressed the farmers in Lakhimpur and said that the government is evicting people in the name of forests, development or encroachments only to give away those lands to the corporates eventually. The BJP government has brought in Forest Conservation Rules 2022 which empowers a government appointed committee to change the land use to non-forest activities. CM Yogi shamelessly declared farmers who are on the lands of their forefathers as encroachers and Lakhimpur Kheri has become a laboratory for these nasty anti-farmer designs. This will be opposed.

Krishna Adhikari, who is leading the farmers protest said that the government had launched an eviction drive also in 2020 which was opposed by the villagers and the government was then forced to issue an order saying people who have inhabited these lands since independence will be surveyed and given land pattas. Even after that farmers had to sit in protest for nearly a month to force the administration to conduct the survey. Now the same government is undermining that survey and the forest department is again using force to evict and displace farmers.

– Shams Vikas from Lakhimpur Kheri