Thousands of farmers in Sausar tehsil in Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh have been struggling to get their land back from Chhindwara Plus Developers Limited. The farmers have accused the company of purchasing thousands of acres of fertile land at throwaway prices since 2007 in the name of setting up a special economic zone (SEZ).
Madhya Pradesh Trade and Investment Facilitation Corporation Limited and Chhindwara Plus Developers Private Limited signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on October 27, 2007, to set up the SEZ in Sausar. Thereafter, Chhindwara Limited purchased land from farmers at different rates. The farmers allege that Chhindwara SEZ is a nexus between government officials and the company to grab fertile land.
When the land acquisition notice was issued in April 2015 to the village panchayats, representatives of the villages went to the Chhindwara District Collector (DC) to submit their objections, but the DC reportedly refused to accept them. In July 2015, around 150 farmers from eight villages in Saunsar gathered at the guest house of the public works department to protest the individual hearing process adopted for the land acquisition instead of a public hearing. Later, the farmers signed a memorandum and submitted it to the land acquisition officer, stating that they do not wish to part with their land and that the administration should not issue further land acquisition notices to them. They alleged that poor and marginal farmers were being targeted through touts and middlemen in the name of land acquisition. Chhindwara Plus got the approval to set up the SEZ on August 29, 2016.
On April 2, 2018, the farmers staged an indefinite hunger strike in Satnoor village, which ended after nine days following assurances from the government that their demands would be met. Under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, if the land acquired from farmers remains unused for five years, it has to be returned.
It has been more than 10 years since the MoU was signed between the Madhya Pradesh government and Chhindwara Limited. There is no sign of the SEZ being set up, but the farmers are yet to get back their land.
SEZ is a specifically delineated dutyfree enclave with all the required infrastructure provided under a single administrative umbrella. The development of Chhindwara Plus SEZ was envisaged as a multiproduct SEZ, incorporating a smartproduction, hasslefree environment for manufacturing, information technology, garments, pharmaceutical and engineering industries.