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Road to Taj Mahal Sparks New Confrontation Over India’s Land

Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Indian farmers took demands for greater compensation for land being acquired to build a new road connecting New Delhi with the tourist city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, to the capital’s streets.

As many as 15,000 protesters from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh thronged roads leading to the Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century observatory near the country’s parliament, seeking a better price for fields that will become a 165-kilometer (102 miles) Yamuna Expressway, the latest confrontation over land purchases for infrastructure and industry projects involving legislation first drafted in the 19th-century.

“We may die but we won’t vacate even an inch of our land if proper compensation is not given,” said Balkrishan, 72, from the state’s Baghpat district, as demonstrators listened to protest leaders speaking from a makeshift stage.

The expressway, being constructed by Jaypee Infratech Ltd., a unit of India’s biggest builder of dams, will reduce travel time and promote economic development, authorities say. Protests over securing land for industry have delayed projects in India, including a proposal from Posco, South Korea’s biggest steelmaker, to build $12 billion plant in the eastern state of Orissa.

Farmers stepped up their agitation after some of the group’s leaders were arrested and two people were killed in police firing in Aligarh district on Aug. 14.

‘Change Laws’

The government of Uttar Pradesh agreed to raise the compensation amount for farmers to 580 rupees ($12.6) per square meter from 459 rupees, Press Trust of India reported Aug. 19, citing the state’s Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh.

Protesting landholders say counterparts along another section of the road’s route received 850 rupees per square yard, PTI said. They also want changes to the colonial era Land Acquisition Act of 1894 -- which has been repeatedly amended since India’s independence in 1947 -- that governs land purchases by the state for the economic benefit of the larger society.

“When farmers unite, then government bows,” Ajit Singh, a former federal farm minister and leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, told the protesters. “Farmers will not allow the government to give opportunity to private companies to loot.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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