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Maitreya Project Update, September 2007

In our previous Update (June 2007) when we announced that the State Government of Uttar Pradesh had completed the legal requirements for the acquisition of the 750 acre land site to be leased to Maitreya Project, in Kushinagar, UP in northern India, we said:

"There now follows a process in which Maitreya Project will work closely with the State Government, local leaders, landowners, and third party agencies to ensure that fair and agreeable levels of compensation are awarded to those whose land has been acquired."

Following on with this subject, our September Update will address some of the questions we have been asked about the land acquisition process.

1. Are poor farmers being forced off their land by the government on behalf of the Maitreya Project?

No one has been, and no one will be, forced off their land for Maitreya Project. We are crucially aware of the difficulties that land acquisition presents and are deeply concerned that acquisition means loss of land and potential hardship, which would not be in keeping with Maitreya Project's philosophy and aspirations.

Accordingly, the Project has monitored the acquisition process closely since 2003 and repeatedly stressed to the Government of Uttar Pradesh that a humanitarian undertaking such as Maitreya Project is not viable, and cannot, indeed will not, proceed unless all stakeholders, including those affected by the acquisition of land, are party to an overall solution that is fair, equitable and agreeable to all.

The State Government has assured Maitreya Project of its commitment to this principle and is headed by a devout Buddhist - Chief Minister, Madame Mayawati - a fierce champion of the poor and underprivileged who is personally committed to ensuring no landowner or farmer is put into hardship.

2. Why is the state government acquiring the land, instead of the Maitreya Project negotiating with the local community to acquire it?

The State Government and Maitreya Project are highly sensitive to the principles involved and are approaching the process accordingly, but unfortunately, Maitreya Project has no direct standing by which to directly negotiate with landowners. Compliance with India's Land Acquisition Act (LAA) is mandatory. The Land Acquisition Act is a national act and applies equally all over India.

Another important distinction is that Maitreya Project will be a tenant of the State Government, not an owner of the site. Additionally, Maitreya Project in Uttar Pradesh cannot fund community or other development activities in the area until other key formal permissions are received from the Central Government of India.

3. Are the landowners happy to sell their land or are they resisting?

Landowners of around 40% of the proposed site are extremely pleased to accept generous compensation for what is essentially unproductive land.

Some of the other landowners are resisting the acquisition of their land for bona fide reasons and their cases will be considered and negotiated by the Government.

However, the cases of many who oppose acquisition are less than straightforward. There are disputed land titles and fraudulent claims.

About 10% of the proposed land site already belongs to the State Government but has been illegally occupied and used for agriculture by some who now seek to block the Project.

Since the Maitreya Project was announced in Kushinagar, there has been a rush to construct illegal structures on the site in an attempt to receive enhanced compensation.

There are other opponents who are neither farmers nor landowners, but who are nonetheless highly vocal. For example, allegedly:

Aside from the Maitreya Project having no legal standing in the Land Acquisition process, issues such as these are far beyond the scope of Maitreya Project to solve and can only be dealt with by the State Government.

4. How will the landowners be compensated?

India's Land Acquisition Act requires a 2-payment system of compensation. To date, the first payment, which is similar to a down payment, has been offered to land owners, but the amount of the second payment has not yet been announced.

Maitreya Project has been assured by the State Government of UP, that an exceedingly generous compensation package has been reserved for this acquisition. It is understood that the State Government is planning the final compensation level to be much higher than other recent acquisitions in even urban areas of the state, and significantly above recent replacement purchase price levels in the area.

In addition to the Land Acquisition Act, the Government of India's Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy dictates extremely stringent and binding conditions on the State Government. The aim of this policy to identify and mitigate any form of hardship which may follow from an acquisition. Maitreya Project understands that a large sum has been set aside by the State Government, in addition to that for land compensation, specifically for relocation and rehabilitation of the most effected parties.

However, despite these assurances, Maitreya Project will continue, with the assistance of independent third party professional agencies, to closely monitor the process and the local situation to ensure that the Government's promises are carried out, and that only a completely fair and generous overall solution that is acceptable to all stakeholders is reached before there is any question of the Maitreya Project proceeding on the site in question.

The State Government is meeting with local leaders and attempting to engage in real dialogue in the hope of reaching an acceptable agreement for everyone.

5. Why can't the Project locate somewhere that won't require purchasing land from farmers?

In fact, the proposed site was selected by the State Government only after extensive consultation with local people, specifically because it was almost completely free of dwellings, and included a high percentage (approximately 40%) of unproductive land.

In addition, the site is adjacent to two of Buddhism's most revered pilgrimage sites - the shrine marking the spot where the historical Buddha passed away and the site of the Buddha's cremation. As it is predicted that Kushinagar will be one of the places in which Maitreya Buddha will have a strong presence, the selected site will provide enormous impetus to pilgrimage and tourism, further enhancing the enormous potential for the educational, healthcare, and economic benefits which the Project intends to bring to the area and the State.

6. In Bodhgaya, where Maitreya Project originally intended to locate, only 30 or 40 acres were purchased. Why does the Project need so much more land in Kushinagar?

To accommodate the statue, park, and extensive healthcare and educational facilities planned, Maitreya Project has always sought more land than was available in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Before 2001, Maitreya Project purchased, on its own, 30 acres of freehold land in Bodhgaya at market prices, but was prevented at that time by the Bihar State Land Ceiling Act from purchasing more than 50 acres of land. This severely limited the planned development of the Project and eventually contributed to the decision to re-locate out of Bihar in 2001.

7. Why is it taking so long for the land acquisition to be completed and work to get underway?

There was tremendous enthusiasm in 2001 that such a major project would locate in Uttar Pradesh. Today that enthusiasm remains along with a sense of shared vision by which the State Government sincerely seeks to benefit Kushinagar and Uttar Pradesh by attracting such a major project, and the infrastructure, commerce, and social benefits it will bring.

It was expected by all parties that an agreement would be reached within months. However, during the four and a half years since the land site was identified, the political environment in India has presented problems of continuity. This has resulted in uncertainty and frustration for locals and the Project alike - specifically, not knowing the final rate to be offered for land.

Since Maitreya Project was first invited to Uttar Pradesh in 2001, the Project has interacted with 4 elected Uttar Pradesh State Governments. Each State Government has fully supported the Project, but as is standard practice in the Indian administrative system, key bureaucrats are continually rotated. The main contacts for Maitreya Project are the District Commissioner - which has changed 11 times, the District Magistrate - 11 times, and the key Culture Secretary in Lucknow - 6 times. This alone presents enormous challenges to maintaining momentum and direction from the side of the Government and the Project.

The transparency expected in the Internet Age is difficult in the bureaucratic environment of north-eastern India. While one part of India provides the world with cutting edge software solutions, in Uttar Pradesh, government files - including the Maitreya Project files - are still voluminous paper folders passing slowly from desk to desk, office to office, and town to town, as required.

Key members of Maitreya Project's team have extensive experience in grass-roots development projects in India, are Indian and/or speak Hindi, and have all spent years, if not decades, living and working in India, so we are well acquainted with the cultural framework that exists in relation to development in India.

Maitreya Project is dedicated to persevering in its attempt to bring long-term, sustainable benefit to the local community and wider region. However, Maitreya Project will not proceed on the site in Kushinagar until and unless a full, fair, and agreeable settlement is reached with all stakeholders.

8. It is frequently asked, "Why not just build schools?". The answer is, "What can people do with an education in a desperately poor rural area other than migrate to the cities to find work?"

Maitreya Project aspires not just to building a monument but a sustainable regional development. It is by creating an amazing spiritual monument, projected to eventually attract millions of visitors a year, that the infrastructure and economic development envisaged by the State Government and Maitreya Project can be facilitated and supported. The Project's activities in this regard are intentional. They include long-term, top quality, free educational and healthcare programs, as well as significant job creation, training, economic, civic, and spiritual support for those living at every level of society.

The Project and the Government of Uttar Pradesh have worked together to create and enact the Kushinagar Special Development Area (KSDA), an additional area of 4.6 miles/7.5 kilometres surrounding the Maitreya Project site.

Carefully considered municipal bylaws, planning regulations, and excellence in municipal management will protect the KSDA from the kind of opportunism that is often seen in communities of emerging economic development.

The Special Development Area status was enacted specifically because it would have been irresponsible for the Project to have purchased land and built the Project without a carefully considered planning context to complement it.

I hope this helps to provide clarity. If you have questions, please address them to info@maitreyaproject.org and we will endeavour to answer them.

Thank you for your continuing kind interest and support for the Maitreya Project.

Peter Kedge
Director and CEO
Maitreya Project International