South Asia

Indian farmers protest at plan to build new motorway

A farmer gestures at a protest rally in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
Image caption The farmers' say they have yet to agree compensation for the land

Thousands of farmers have held a protest in the Indian capital, Delhi, against the forced acquisition of their land for a new motorway.

The farmers say the land is being taken away before compensation is agreed.

Traffic in central Delhi was gridlocked for hours as they were addressed by opposition politicians.

The use of land for industrial purposes is hugely controversial in India - protests have stalled similar projects elsewhere in the country.

'Land grab'

The government in Uttar Pradesh state has bought the farmers' land to build an eight-lane highway and business zone between Delhi and Agra, an important industrial centre that is also home to the Taj Mahal and other popular tourist sites.

Earlier this month, three farmers in the state were killed when police fired at protesters demanding more compensation.

The BBC's Mark Dummett, who was at the protest in Delhi, says the project is exactly the kind of large-scale development that India needs to create more jobs, but the farmers say they stand to lose out.

Hundreds of millions of other Indians feel the same way, our correspondent says, and will not let land their families have farmed for hundreds of centuries be handed over easily or cheaply as the country rushes to industrialise.

"When our land is taken away, where will we live, where will our children live? They're trying to grab our land!" said one farmer at the protest.

"We haven't agreed on the compensation amount, and our lands have already been transferred to private companies!"

Another protester accused the government of trying to acquire the land cheaply.

"It's our heritage, our livelihood. When we don't have our land, what will we do - become a Maoist or a terrorist?"

India's governing Congress party says it hopes to push through a new law soon guaranteeing higher levels of compensation for farmers who lose their land.