UP wakes up after Buddha project ‘shifts’ to Bihar

After the International Maitreya Foundation decided to shift the Maitreya Buddha project from Kushinagar to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, the district administration in Kushinagar has stepped up efforts for acquisition of land which was identified the project.

The administration said that since the foundation had not communicated any change of its plans, they were proceeding with the assumption that the project would stay in Kushinagar.

District officials claimed that a majority of the landowners had agreed to accept compensation at the rate of Rs 945 per square metre. District Magistrate Rigzian Sampheal on Friday said that around Rs 19 crore for about 50 acres land had been distributed to farmers in the past three days.

On Tuesday, the administration held a meeting with farmers. It claims that they agreed to accept the rate of Rs 945 per square metre, which was also the rate at which compensation had been paid for land acquired for the Kushinagar international airport project, which is close by.

"About 590 farmers had come to the meeting, they demanded compensation at Rs 1,500 per square metre. But after negotiations, they agreed to accept Rs 945 per square metre and signed the bonds to sell the land," said the DM.

The government has to acquire 256 acres for the project from nearly 2,300 farmers. Officials claimed that more than 1,700 farmers had agreed to accept compensation. "Other 600 farmers are also amendable and we are hopeful that all of them will accept compensation within the next few days," Sampheal said.

Another official said the government actually expedited the land acquisition process for a different reason. Some of the farmers had approached the Allahabad High Court, seeking early payment of compensation, and the court recently ordered that they should be paid at the earliest.

"Since the petitioners in that case will be given compensation at the rate of Rs 945 per square metre, the other farmers will also receive compensation at the same rate," said Manoj Kumar Singh, Secretary of Culture and Tourism.

He said the promoters of Maitreya had sent no communication to the government regarding any plan to move the project from Kushinagar. "As soon as the land acquisition is completed, the International Maitreya Foundation will be informed," Singh said.

However, a group is unwilling to part with their land and are reportedly holding a dharna in Kushinagar under the banner of Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti. Samiti leader Govardhan Gaur claimed "around 85 per cent farmers" did not want to give their land at any cost and the "administration is misguiding the media".

Earlier this month, the Maitreya project's spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche had announced on the project's website: "For the past nine years, we have worked hard with UP government to locate the project in Kushinagar. But because of very difficult issues regarding land acquisition, with the approval of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we have now decided to build the Maitreya statue in Bodhgaya."

However, Pradyotam Kumar Tiwari, who claims to be the local representative of International Maitreya Foundation in Gorakhpur, said, "The foundation has so far not taken any final decision to move the project from Kushinagar."

He claimed the "Bodhgaya project has no relation with the Kushinagar project''. Tiwari said the government had in May assured the foundation authorities that it would hand over the land by December.

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