Race to India bypasses the poor

The state of Uttar Pradesh is accused of exploiting farmers to grab a slice of Formula One riches

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The Independent Online

Formula One's glamorous, high-octane roadshow rolls into India this week as the country prepares to stage its first Grand Prix next Sunday. The multi-millionaire drivers will be accompanied by the usual retinue of models and high-profile extras, who will descend on the Buddh international circuit in Greater Noida, 30 miles outside New Delhi.

Lady Gaga and Metallica will arrive on private jets to perform at two exclusive parties attended by leading Bollywod actors, Indian cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, and wealthy industrialists and politicians.

Around £3 million is being spent on next weekend's entertainment around a race which is being entirely run and funded by India's private sector. Ticket prices are exorbitant by Indian standards. The cheapest at £30 is the equivalent of a manual workers monthly wage; the £160,000 for an executive box is more than most Indians could earn in several lifetimes. Almost all the boxes are sold out with a capacity 120,000 crowd expected.

Within earshot of the Formula One engines, however, farmers from villages surrounding the Buddh circuit will gather next weekend to protest against what they see as a conspiracy between government officials and one of the country's most powerful construction companies to force them to give their land away. At the heart of the dispute is the 250 acres of former agriculturalland on which the track is located. Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) officials compulsorily purchased the land from the farmers four years ago for £3-£10 per square metre and then sold it on to Jaypee group – a companyworth nearly £300m – for £100-£200 per square metre.

Jaypee group, which has extensive interests in construction, engineering, hospitality and property across Asia, spent around £200m to build the 5.14 kilometre circuit.

UP is India's largest – and most politically sensitive – state and has undergone a massive construction boom in recent years to cater for a growing middle class. Surrounding the Buddh circuit, the Jaypee group has already started constructing luxury villas and apartments, which are being sold to India's urban elite at anything upto £1,000 per square metre.

The company also plans to developa sports city around the circuit with a golf course, Olympic size swimming pool, tennis and hockey facilities and a football academy plus shopping malls and commercial premises which will all push land and property prices higher.

The farmers are due to go to the High Court in Lucknow, the state capital, early next month asking for the amount they were paid for the land to be increased to reflect current market prices. A crucial part of their case is that they were forced to sell their land under special compulsory purchase orders issued by the UP government for the creation of roads and industries to benefit the whole community. They claim that they were misled and that all along the government had intended to sell the land on to the Jaypee group for the circuit and sports city.

Dharminder Malik, the spokesman for the farmers' union BKU said: "Less than four years after our farmers were forced to sell their land we have a Formula One track on it. How is a Formula One track in the public interest? What good is it to an illiterate farmer, who can't even afford the cheapest ticket for a Formula One race?

"We believe that the government and private developers have got together to rob the farmers. They always knew that this land was going to increase in value because there was always a plan to build a Formula One track on it and other sports and commercial facilities for India's middle and upper class."

Ten farmers, seemingly those with political connections, have received up to £1 million in compensation. But much of that has been splashed on gaudy homes and expensive cars and has led to an increase in social problems such as alcoholism and domestic violence in some villages. Malik said: "Where farmers have received money, they have spent it very badly. It has caused more problems within families and villages. That's why we not only want adequate compensation but also jobs and training for all our youngsters. How will they live in the future without land or jobs?"

The Jaypee group denies claims of any conspiracy, insisting that it paid the market rate. The senior vice-president, Askri Zaidi, said: "In the last four years land prices in this part of UP have gone up more than 20 times. We bought the land off the UP government and have nothing to do with this dispute. We paid the correct market rate but believe that the farmers and the UP government need to settle this matter. We are confident that the race will not be affected by any protests and have put in place special security to make sure there are no disruptions next weekend."

With India's economic boom showing no signs of relenting, international sport is increasingly eyeing the country as a lucrative market. As images from the Buddh circuit are beamed around the world, India's peasant farmers, who make up almost 80 per cent of the population, will hope that in the race to cash in on the country's international sporting potential, they are not forgotten.

Entertainment at a cost: Going Gaga in Greater Noida for a cool £300m

* A luxurious 60-acre golf and spa resort close to the new Buddh circuit will host grand prix after-parties costing over £3 million.

* A thousand staff will cater to drivers, officials and celebrities staying at the resort.

* Lady Gaga and Metallica will perform for drivers and VIPs. Bollywood film stars attending include Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

* Dancers from every Indian state will form part of the entertainment, which includes an elephant procession.

* Indian dishes from every state will be prepared by 100 chefs.

* The Buddh circuit was designed by German architect and racetrack designer Hermann Tilke and it cost £300 million to build and stage Sunday's race.