What could be termed as a major step forward to promote Buddhist tourism in Uttar Pradesh, the district administration of Kushinagar entered into an agreement with farmers who initially unwilling to give their land for the Maitreya Project. The said project involves construction of a 500-feet-tall statue of Lord Buddha in Kasia area of Kushinagar.
The mega project, which started in 2003, was stalled when farmers and the local administration failed to come to a consensus over the price of land. While the UP government had agreed to pay Rs 710 per square metre, the farmers were asking for Rs 1,500 per square metre. The disagreement despite efforts from the state tourism department compelled the Maitreya Project Trust to walk out of UP. Sources said that the trust wrote to UP government in this regard in March 2012. However, the new government asked for a second chance. As a result, a fresh round of negotiations began.
After the first meeting with the farmers, the government offered to pay Rs 800 per square metre, while the farmers quoted their rate at Rs 1,200 per square metre. Several meetings were held in April and May and both the parties revised their rates. This time the government offered to pay Rs 850, while the farmers asked for Rs 975 per square metre of land. Still, the talks failed. The final round of dialogue began in the last week of July when the government offered a rate of Rs 930 per square metre. The farmers continued to stress on their demand of Rs 975 per square metre.
Finally, on Saturday morning, the government increased the price by ten rupees taking the cost to Rs 940 per square metre. After some consultation, the farmers quoted Rs 945 per square metre, which the government officials agreed. Incidentally, the rate of land finalised is same as what the government is paying to farmers for expansion of the Kushinagar airport.
The farmers and their families were also assured that the project will also include education and health care facilities for the local population. The matter is significant, as it is related to some 300 farmers across six villages owning 256 acres of land. Notably, the project is to come up in an area of 660 acres of which only 260 acres will actually available. About 127 acres was acquired bit by bit over five-year term of BSP government, which took the available land to 387 acres.
Of the remaining 273 acres, 256 was owned by the farmers was disputed while 17 acres belonged to the gram sabha in these villages. What made it even sensitive was Maitreya Project Trust’s declaration that ‘not a single inch of land would be forcibly acquired.’ In this way, consensus was crucial for the project.