How Formula One fuelled riches for a few, but left them 'poor'

Last Updated: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 05:18 hrs

Ram Bir Singh, 50, sits outside his nephew's imposing, glass-fronted three-storied home on the main street in Atta Gujran, a once nondescript village that now lives next to India's $400-million Formula One racetrack, supervising some construction workers.

There are plenty of them here nowadays, working on houses small and big, mostly bankrolled by the compensation, between Rs 600-800 per square metre, that villagers received for their farmlands. But only a handful in Atta Gujran, he says, have any papers to show for the land they live on.

That's because the 1,000 hectares acquired for Jaypee Sports International Limited's Jaypee Sports City, where the F1 race is held, included plots that had houses built on them. These were to be leased back to residents, while all other land would be retained.

"We were given very little money for our lands," says Ram Bir Singh, "We want more compensation, and we want to get the papers." He claims he sold his 50 acres of land for Rs 655 per square meter, a total windfall of more than Rs 26 lakh.

Officials at the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA), which administers 133 villages between the Yamuna River and the Grand Trunk Road, admit few have got their leases and no settlement over the compensation amount has been reached. "The process is ongoing," says YEIDA deputy CEO P C Gupta.

"We have about 1,700 people in the voter list but only three or four have got their back lease. We were promised schools, an ITI (industrial training institute) and a hospital, but none of that has happened," says Bishambhar Singh, a former headman. "Some months ago, we even had a meeting some months ago with the local administration. They spoke to us but there has been no progress."

The same set of issues, alongside others like the block road between Atta Gujran and Dankaur, had forced farmers here to agitate last year, just as F1 debuted in India - and little has changed since. 60-year-old Nai Pal Singh, points to his son and admits that "young people here have nothing to do anymore". "We were told our land was being taken for factories but that hasn't happened," he says. "There has been no employment generated. Boys from outside come and work at the race track, while our sons sit at home."

But the Rs 600-800 per square metre, although it seems a pittance compared to the current price of Rs 40,000 per square meter according to locals, was enough money for a construction and consumption boom in Atta Gujran. "People built houses, bought cars and buffalos, ate and drank at hotels. That's how much of the money was spent," says Ram Bir Singh.

Now, there isn't enough left to buy agricultural land nearby, since prices have also spiralled, and few are educated here for jobs elsewhere. Some have already spent so much, locals admit, that they might not even be able to pay the required fees to gain control of the re-developed land, up to seven per cent of the acquired plots, which land-losers are to be given.

So, villagers from Atta Gujran and adjoining settlements who lost their land to the Formula One track will hold a meeting in the run-up to the F1 race on October 28 to decide what to do next. Although the ghosts of nearby Bhatta Parsaul, where anti-acquisition protests turned violent last year, continue to haunt them, elders like Bishambhar Singh are steadfast in their defiance.

"Farming was all that we knew and today there's no other work here," he says. "Our land and livelihood was snatched away. We didn't give it away willingly." That land also included Atta Gujran's crematorium.

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