Company lied about project for industrial zone: farmers

By Noe Noe Aung
Volume 31, No. 616
February 27 - March 4, 2012

A farmer from Shwe Na Thar village in Mingalardon township.
Pic: Boothee

DISPOSSESSED farmers in a rural part of Yangon’s Mingalardon township are preparing to take their fight against one of the country’s largest firms to the courts.

The farmers from Shwe Na Thar village say they only want their land back and are not seeking any compensation from the Zaykabar company, which acquired the land to construct Yangon Industrial Zone 4.

Starting from February 2010, the company acquired 845 acres from 71 households with the help of two government officials in the village. About 100 acres remain in the hands of residents.

Some of the farmers already received K300,000 each in compensation but they told The Myanmar Times on February 21 that they were tricked into accepting the money by the two officials.

“At first we were told that our land was being taken for a government project. All this farmland is owned by government and if the government wants it, we know we have to give it back. So we gave it to them without complaint,” said farmer Daw Tin Sein.

“I am still keeping my other five acres. I didn’t give it to them and didn’t take any compensation,” she added.

Others have been left with nothing, however.

“I gave my 16 acres of farmland to them. The future of our family depends on that land. I don’t want anything from [Zaykabar] except my farm,” said Daw Tin Yi, 48.

Ma Hnin Nandar, 38, said that the company bought her farmland, which was full of toddy palms, for K5000 a tree.

“The company cut down my plants but I still haven’t got my money,” she said.

“For my children’s education and health we need money and we can get money only from our farms. I can’t do anything except farming. I want my land back. Unless this happens my children will have many difficulties for their education.”

In mid-2011, the company began breaking down embankments, blocking canals and laying concrete roads. Farmers said the company told them on January 18 to move out by January 24 and that some of their land had already been sold to unknown buyers from outside Mingalardon township.

U Nay Myo Wai, chairman of the Peace and Diversity Party, which is based in Mingalardon township and has been helping the farmers raise awareness about their plight, said existing laws prohibited the company from selling the land.

“According to section four of the Act of Nationalisation of Farmlands (1953), farmland is not allowed to be bought or sold between civilians. And also the Law of Rental Lands for Cultivation (1963) states that civilians are not allowed to do other things with farmland besides agriculture,” U Nay Myo Wai told The Myanmar Times.

“If the company has sold the farmland to others, this is not legal under the law,” he added.

U Nay Myo Wai said the farmers had initially told him that their land was acquired by the government. “But later I came to understand that it was not the government – just a private company that took advantage of their lack of knowledge. So I decided to get involved,” he said.

The notice the company distributed to farmers on January 18 gave some clues about the situation, he said.

“According to the papers attached to the notice, the government didn’t give the farmland to Zaykabar for an industrial zone. Secondly, I noticed that the government told the company to run an agriculture business if they got the farmland and thirdly the company was told to give back the land to farmers if they don’t do agriculture on this farmland. And I noticed that the company reported to the government that the farmers do not want to farm anymore because they want to do another business and that’s why they gave up their farmland. But that’s totally wrong,” U Nay Myo Wai said.

The farmers are now preparing to take legal action against the company but said they would drop the case if the company returns the land.

“We are lost. Unless we don’t get back our farmland, we will starve,” one Mingalardon farmer said.

The farmers said that it appeared as though Zaykabar had suspended its project.

Officials from Zaykabar took the unusual step of holding a press conference to deny the farmers’ allegations.

The company’s general manager, Daw Mi Mi Thein Tan, told reporters on February 14 that the industrial zone project had government support.

“After March 2011 we continued our project with the permission of the government. And we got that permission through the government procedure,” Daw Mi Mi Thein Tan said.

Another company official said it was not possible for Zaykabar to do the industrial zone on its own.

“We got this agreement and allowance after reporting step by step to authorised people in the government. This is a joint project between Zaykabar, the Ministry of Construction and the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development,” he said.

The official said the company was following the orders of the Yangon Region government.