Maitreya Project to proceed only if all stakeholders give consent
by Linda Gatter, Media Manager, Maitreya Project International, The Buddhist
I refer to the article "Giant Buddha’s tough love will drive out poor" by Daniel Pepper of 9th Sept. 2007. Your readers may want a more complete picture of the situation in Kushinagar.
The following quotes were supplied in writing to the reporter and in our view are essential for balance, but regrettably were omitted from his article:
"Maitreya Project is aware of the difficulties [a land] acquisition presents and is deeply concerned that acquisition means loss of land and potential hardship which is not at all in keeping with the Project’s philosophy and aspirations. The Project has repeatedly stressed to the Government of Uttar Pradesh that a humanitarian project 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."
Also, according to Pepper, the site designated for Maitreya Project by the UP Government, is roughly 700 acres of fertile land and does not have the backing of local farmers. However, this is an over simplification of the facts.
In fact the proposed area is 750 acres of which 90 acres already belongs to the State Government.
The proposed site in question was chosen by the State Government specifically because it included a large tract, approximately 40%, of unproductive land.
Also provided to Pepper in writing but not included in the article:
"Maitreya Project has been assured by the State Government of UP, that a very generous compensation package has been reserved for this acquisition. It is understood that the State Government is planning the final compensation level to be of an order of magnitude several times higher than other recent acquisitions in even urban areas of the state, and significantly above recent replacement purchase price levels in the area.
Maitreya Project understands that land owners on around 40% of the proposed site are very pleased to accept compensation for what is essentially unproductive land.
Maitreya Project also understands some currently continue to resist acquisition for bona fide reasons and their cases will be considered and negotiated by the Government.
Others are allegedly resisting acquisition for other reasons including disputed title (for example, one very sizeable land holding apparently on lease from the Government but for which the lessee demands compensation as if the owner).
There are other loud local voices encouraging resistance to acquisition -- these voices own landholdings elsewhere which they would like the State Government to buy for the Maitreya Project instead of the proposed site."
In addition, there has been significant encroachment and illegal construction on the site since the announcement of the Project in 2003 and there are many other complex situations to be resolved appropriately by the State Government if the Project is to locate at this site in Kushinagar.
Aside from Pepper’s question about a fair compensation package, the issue raised by readers comments on-line is whether or not it is appropriate to build a world monument in an area of poverty.
Maitreya Project is not just building a monument but a sustainable development which will provide healthcare and educational services as well as generate jobs and bring other economic benefits. We have frequently been asked why we not just build schools. In reply we ask, “what can people do with an education in a desperately poor rural area other than migrate to the cities to find work?”
It is by creating an amazing spiritual monument, projected to attract millions of visitors a year, that the infrastructure and economic development desperately required in northern India will 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.
In addition to the above mentioned benefits, the Project and the UP Government have worked together to create 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 and planning regulations will protect the KSDA from the kind of opportunism that is often seen in communities of emerging economic development and the work of planning and monitoring the development of the region will be ongoing.
In conclusion and response to the main thrust of the article, Maitreya Project will not be able to proceed on the site in question until and unless a full, fair, and agreeable settlement is reached with all stakeholders.
Maitreya Project invites readers to form their own opinion after viewing the website at www.maitreyaproject.org.