Farmers who lost land for Sikkim airport begin agitation, opposition lends support

More than 350 farmers in Sikkim have started an agitation, demanding compensation for the land they claim was damaged during construction of the state’s first airport.

The airport was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 26.

With the state’s main opposition party, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), lending support to the movement, the agitation is likely to gain steam in the coming days. The agitators have plans to display black flags outside the airport.

Located at an altitude of 4,500 ft, the airport has a strategic importance since Sikkim shares borders with China, Nepal and Bhutan.

Read: Engineering marvel at 4,500 feet: PM Modi inaugurates Sikkim’s Pakyong airport

The affected people, almost all of whom were farmers, have alleged that their land, aggregating to around 300 acres, has been rendered unfit for cultivation. This 300 acres of land was not officially acquired for the project but was damaged during construction, the farmers have alleged. They have also moved the Sikkim high court.

The government officially acquired 201 acres for the terminal building, runway, staff quarters etc. and compensated land losers.

“We were compensated for the damage done to our home. But the damage to our land, which was not acquired yet damaged, has deprived us of livelihood,” alleged Hari Prasad Adhikari who owns the land along with his elder brother Nirmal Adhikari.

The land owned by the Adhikaris is located adjacent to the boundary of the airport. The brothers claim that it was their only source of income. “We used to grow organic vegetables and cash crops in the open and in green houses. We reared goats and cows as well,” Hari Prasad Adikari said.

“We were given Rs 5.5 lakh for the damage done to our home and asked to move. In 2014, we shifted to a spot around 2 km away. Now I work as wage labourer at construction sites,” he added.

Read: Sikkim’s upcoming airport raises hopes among people of breaking barriers

On Sunday, SKM president Prem Singh Golay visited Pakyong and promised to fight for the land losers. “The stir will intensify unless compensation is paid following guidelines of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013,” Golay said.

SKM is the principal opposition party in Sikkim and is set to pose a challenge to Pawan Chamling, leader of Sikkim Democratic Front and India’s longest serving chief minister. He came to power in 1994.

The farmers have moved Sikkim high court, praying for compensation. They have also forced the authorities to suspend some minor constructions.

“There are certain issues that need to be looked into. The high court has asked the government to furnish some details,” said Kapil Meena, district magistrate, East Sikkim.

“The case is scheduled to be heard on November 23,” said O P Bhandari, a lawyer representing the farmers.

First Published: Nov 13, 2018 18:02 IST

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