Tuesday, June 18, 2013

JAAG rally warns government against forcible acquisition of land in Bhechraji-Mandal special investment region

Rally at Gandhinagar
By Our Representative
The Jamin Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) -- which on June 18 led a well-attended farmers’ rally starting in North Gujarat’s Bhechraji region, and ending at the state capital Gandhinagar after passing through Sanand town and Ahmedabad city -- has warned the Gujarat government against any attempt to forcibly acquire 50,885 hectares of land in order to set up special investment region (SIR) in the region. In a memorandum submitted to state revenue minister Anandiben Patel, JAAG has said, “Bhechraji-Mandal SIR notification dated May 14 is in our hand. The map of the notification suggests that more than one lakh people of 44 villages of four talukas will be adversely affected because of SIR. We are not going to take it lying down.”
“It is the same area which is waiting for Narmada waters for long”, the memorandum said, adding, “During elections, we were promised this land would be turned into a green belt. However, what we are now being offered is an industrial empire, with resultant pollution. Prospects of better agriculture have been pushed to the backdrop. There was no consultation with the villagers, yet the maps which we have seen suggests that our only means of livelihood, agriculture, would be taken away.”
The government tried unsuccessfully to stall the rally to Gandhinagar. Unprecedented police arrangements were made since the night of June 17. Leaders were made to go from one office to another, one block to another to secure permission for the rally route. Despite all of this, people assembled by 8 am on June 18 and the rally commenced from village Vithlapur village at 8.30 am. There were 500 tractors, 50-60 motorcycles, 10 mini-trucks and 50 four wheelers. On the entire rally route one could hear slogans like “Tell SIR, no Sir”, “Remove SIR, save agriculture”, “The village land belongs to the village, not to the government” and “We will give up our lives, nor our land”. The government also tried to enforce a change in the rally route but seeing the turnout of the people and their anger, they let the rally pass.
The rally converged in Gandhinagar, and well-known activist Raju Purohit, former BJP leader Kanubhai Kalsariya, former Finance Minister Sanat Mehta, academician Y. K. Alagh, Jayesh Patel of Olpad anti-SIR movement, Lalji Desai and Rajni Dave of Bhumiputra addressed it. Noted Gandhians Narayan Desai and Chunibhai Vaidya sent letters of support.
The region in the eye of storm has attracted a star investment of India’s largest passenger car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki India, parking its car plant at village Hansalpur in Mandal taluka. The view is quite strong among local villagers and the NGOs who are leading the action against SIR that the land allotted to Maruti is revenue land on paper but in reality it is the land under cultivation and grazing land accessed by livestock of neighbouring six villages. Clearly, the SIR may affect the pastoralists adversely.
The root of the problem began when the Gujarat government, through a notification dated September 24, 2012, declared the area of 44 villages of Ahmedabad, Surendranagar and Mehsana districts as the Mandal-Behcharaji SIR. The geographical area of this region measures 50884.8362 hectares (approximately 500 sq km) in total. area.
Suspicion among the villagers about the government plan particularly went deep, as SIR notification was issued despite the fact that it is mandatory for the to inform the Gram Panchayats regarding the implications of SIR and Gram Panchayats should respond to this notification within a stipulated time. However, while the Mandal-Becharaji SIR was put on fast-track, neither the Gram Panchayats nor the residents of the 44 villages of this region were informed about SIR.
In April, one of the local NGOs came to know about the notification. The implications of this notification on the area (44 directly affected and other neighbouring villages) were discussed with local community based organisations (CBOs), other NGOs, activists and like-minded individuals. This made it necessary to start local action immediately.
A meeting was held on May 6-7 at Gopnaad village, near Bechraji, to further deliberate on the situation. Representatives of tribals, farmers, pastoralists, fishermen, women, and children among others participated. The NGOs who took a call were Gujarat Sarvodaya Mandal, Janpath, Working Group on Women Land Ownership, Jamin Bachao Andolan, Meethi Virdi Andolan, Olpad Andolan, Gujarat Khedut Samaaj, Bhumi Bachao Andolan, Machimar Sangharsh Samiti, Maldhari Jan Andolan, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Paryavaran Mitra, and Ekta Parishad. The sarpanches and residents of these villages expressed their willingness to fight against the proposed SIR.
A consensus emerged to continue fight for the rights and to hold the government accountable. It was recognized that such a fight would need a bigger platform and a sustained action. Thus emerged a state level coalition – Jamin Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG).
An intense awareness-creation process was undertaken in each village. Meetings were held with communities and the implications of SIR were discussed. Then came the second notification on May 14. The map of SIR was put up in Vithlapur village, at the SIR office. This added fuel to fire. People started realizing the seriousness of the issue.
All 44 villages have been divided into nine clusters (Vanpedi, Hansalpur, Varmor, Nayakpur, Detroj, Vichhan, Sitapur, Vanod and Valevda). On an average each cluster covers five villages. Meetings have been held in all nine clusters and 36 villages started preparations for a broader movement. Gram Samitis (village committees) were established. One after the other village signed resolutions stating their opposition to giving away their land to the SIR.
Milk cooperative societies and ginning cooperative societies passed resolutions opposing SIR. Efforts were on to ensure that similar resolutions were passed by block and district panchayats. There was a general consensus that the resistance was going to be apolitical; support of different political parties would be sought on the issue, but they would not be given any space in the public platform.
Thousands of families signed affidavits against giving away their Landless families and maldharis (pastoralists) also gave affidavit against giving away their pasture lands, which are common property resource on which they depend and survive. The residents of the villages put up white boards with red ink barring government officials or corporate agencies from entering the villages for any work regarding SIR. Anti-SIR slogans were written on the common walls of the village.
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Watch a video clip of the JAAG rally by clicking HERE

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