Maitreya Project Status & Fact Reference, September 2009
In response to several recent enquiries, we are pleased to take this opportunity to provide an overview of the current status of Maitreya Project.
Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh
The following is current information from Kushinagar itself, and we hope you will enjoy news of our progress and Maitreya Project’s excellent relationship with the people of Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Maitreya Project in Uttar Pradesh is a partnership between the State Government of UP and Maitreya Project India. From 2000, the State Government of UP keenly pursued Maitreya Project, requesting it to locate in Uttar Pradesh in order to provide a catalyst for appropriate development of the very backward and underdeveloped eastern part of UP. This region is a key part of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit in India, where historically the Buddha lived and taught.
The land acquisition
It should firstly be emphasised that key members of Maitreya Project's team are Indian and have extensive experience in grass-roots development projects in India. Leading firms of environmental, developmental, resettlement, and rehabilitation consultants based in India have been engaged during the eight years of the Project’s association with the State of Uttar Pradesh.
The tract of land the State Government offered to Maitreya Project in Kushinagar was carefully selected by a process of in-depth consultation between the State Government, landowners in Kushinagar, local administration bodies, and Maitreya Project. The designated land site was partially owned by the State Government and a portion required acquisition from landowners.
In all dealings with the State Government, Maitreya Project has always maintained that for the Project to proceed, the outcome of the land site acquisition must be absolutely fair and that any hardship must be acceptably mitigated or avoided entirely. To that end, the Project has made it clear — from the beginning to the present time — that the Project will not proceed to lease the land site offered by the Government of Uttar Pradesh unless and until a full, fair, and agreeable settlement is reached with all stakeholders.
Maitreya Project has continuously advocated strongly on behalf of landowners in Kushinagar and has played a key role in keeping the process of fair acquisition on track.
Since early 2008, scheduled meetings between all of the stakeholders (government, village leaders, farmers, landowners, and Maitreya Project) have been ongoing and the result is an excellent mix of open dialogue, trust, and community involvement in bringing the benefits of Maitreya Project to Kushinagar.
This process of dialogue was initiated by Maitreya Project. It has built trust and enabled Maitreya Project to advocate for the people who are affected. Over the last two years Maitreya Project has had, and continues to have, many face-to-face meetings with all of the stakeholders.
In addition, Maitreya Project’s lawyers and Indian local staff are available on a daily basis to landowners (including farmers), assisting in facilitating dialogue between the landowners and the State Government. Landowners have been confidently contacting the Maitreya Project office directly to report concerns and for advice and assistance in liaising with government officials, which has been immediately and freely given. This has provided landowners with an efficient way in which to air and resolve concerns and problems. This form of dialogue is unprecedented in India and this acquisition is becoming a model for development, as Maitreya Project always intended it to be.
General levels of compensation were announced in early 2008. In order to finalise the land acquisition process to the full satisfaction of all parties, in June 2009, the State Government established a high level Negotiation Committee whose mandate is to negotiate rates with each and every stakeholder in order to fully satisfy all concerned.
The process of dialogue between the farmers and the negotiation committee is now under way and the issue is only for decision of a final compensation rate to the satisfaction of the farmers.
Most of the leading members of the earlier opposition, ‘Save the Land Movement’, including the secretary and treasurer, as well as the Gram Pradhan (elected village head) of Siswan Mahanth (the village giving the maximum amount of land), are now supporting the land acquisition, showing that the original concern was for adequate financial compensation and that landowners are, in fact, happy to sell.
Several village leaders visited Bodhgaya in neighbouring Bihar State, where they toured Maitreya Project’s local facilities. They were so impressed by the work that was being done by Maitreya Project in Bodhgaya that, in response, they offered rice and potatoes to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the Spiritual Director of Maitreya Project. Making a food offering in this way is a very significant local custom.
The development of this land acquisition process has demonstrated goodwill, consideration and a willingness to engage in dialogue, demonstrating that the Government of UP is making good on their promises to the Project and the landowners.
Maitreya Project continues to advocate on behalf of the landowners for the Government of UP to complete the compensation process as soon as possible. Senior level officials in the Government of UP have assigned officers of proven high integrity to oversee the land acquisition process.
Farmers owning some of the houses in the initial acquisition area contacted Maitreya Project staff and lawyers and expressed concern. As a result, Maitreya Project, in a series of meetings with the Government of UP, requested the removal of that parcel of land to which the government agreed. This has prevented hardship for the farmers and has strengthened their very good relations with the Project.
As a result of this change in boundary, very few households will need relocation, and for those a huge budget of Rupees 5 crore (a crore is 10 million rupees) has been allotted. Even though the remaining houses are all very small (mostly one or two room village houses) this huge amount of five crore rupees has been provided under the very strict policy of Rehabilitation and Reallocation. This money will fund new houses and assist those persons who are becoming landless. This generous package is over and above the substantial land rate that the government will pay as compensation.
In addition, in order to ensure that all the farmers are happy at the end of the acquisition, the State Government has taken some very concrete steps. On 10th of June 2009, the Government constituted a high level negotiation committee consisting of the District Magistrate for Kushinagar, and the Land Acquisition Officer and Nodal Officer from the Culture Department. The mandate of this committee is to ensure not only a fair rate but a fair settlement with the consent of the farmers. Thus, the committee will meet with farmers to ensure they are provided with a satisfactory rate that is agreed by them. In India, this is commonly known as the application of the “Karar Niyamawali” which means acquisition by consent and acceptance.
Regional Infrastructure Improvements
One of the ways Maitreya Project envisions benefiting northern India is by acting as a catalyst and sustaining influence for many related infrastructural improvements which will naturally bring many other social and economic benefits to the region. They are certainly not limited to, but include the following:
- New Rail Link
Kushinagar has been difficult for tourists with spiritual and historical interests to access, but the Government of India is proposing to build a state of the art rail system to join the main sites of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. By locating the Maitreya Project in Kushinagar, where the historical Buddha passed away, Maitreya Project will provide enormous impetus to pilgrimage and tourism, further enhancing the enormous potential for the education, healthcare, and economic benefits which the Project intends to bring to the area. Based on a presentation made by the Maitreya Project technical team regarding linking Kushinagar directly by train to other destinations on the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit, preliminary studies have already been carried forward.
- New Highway
The Government has already started construction work on a 4 – lane highway under the ongoing National Highway Authority plan. This highway will link Gorakhpur to Bihar, crossing through Kushinagar. The plan of the highway is such that it has a very long stretch touching the Maitreya Project site. Hence, the connectivity for tourists traveling by road will become excellent.
- New International Airport
At the site of the existing air strip at Kushinagar, an international airport has been approved by the Government of UP. The Maitreya Project recently made a presentation to the Nodal Tourism Department about the expected increase in tourism and, based on this, the State Government prepared a proposal for a partnership between the Government of UP and private industry specialising in airport infrastructure.
Planning for long-term benefit
To protect the area surrounding the Maitreya Project in Kushinagar, UP from possible opportunism, the Memorandum of Understanding between Maitreya Project and the Government of UP has provided for an area described by approximately a 7.5 kilometer radius around the 750-acre/300-hectare Maitreya site. This area has been designated by the UP Government as the Kushinagar Special Development Area (KSDA).
Maitreya Project has worked with the Uttar Pradesh State Government, together with advisors and consultants in India and overseas, to create a comprehensive Master Plan for the appropriate development of the protected KSDA.
The KSDA will be administered by the newly created Kushinagar Special Development Area Authority, which will be overseen by another newly created body, the Kushinagar Regional Commission. These bodies have effect in law and Maitreya Project has representation on these bodies. To achieve this, Maitreya Project met regularly, on a scheduled basis, with the appropriate departments in UP to create the municipal bylaws and planning regulations.
The reason for such broad planning is that it would not be responsible for Maitreya Project to simply build the Project in rural India without a robust and comprehensive civil context. It is intended that the controlled KSDA will ensure that only appropriate and planned development can take place so that Kushinagar will be protected from possible opportunism as the infrastructural benefits of the Project take effect within the surrounding communities.
Maitreya Project has the agreement of the Uttar Pradesh State Government to extend, over time, the Project’s social programmes over the entire Kushinagar Special Development Area which currently is home to over 300,000 people.
In the meantime, in Bihar state, Maitreya Project has continued to work with the current State Government administration.
In order to fulfill the original wish of Maitreya Project’s founder, Lama Thubten Yeshe, his successor and the Project’s Spiritual Director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche plans to construct a 150ft statue of Maitreya Buddha on the existing Bodhgaya land. The Maitreya statue in Bodhgaya will be a little shorter than the height of the Mahabodhi Stupa. This statue will be built in addition to the 500ft statue of Maitreya Buddha to be constructed in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh.
The proposal is to construct a 150ft statue of Maitreya Buddha using the same art as is planned for the 500ft statue in Kushinagar.
Also planned for the Maitreya Project Bodhgaya land site is a temple and facilities that accommodate the Gelugpa Monlam Festival for which Maitreya Project will be honoured to make the site available annually. When the Monlam Festival is not in session the facilities will be available to Indian and other monks who will be resident.
The Project in Bodhgaya has a major sponsor who has committed to ensuring the construction of the 150ft Maitreya statue in Bodhgaya and updated site planning for the Bodhgaya land and 150ft Maitreya Buddha statue has begun.
Thank you for your kind interest and attention. We hope that the above, which is current as of September 2009, conveys the highly positive spirit of cooperation within which the Project is moving forward in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh and Bodhgaya, Bihar.