Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gujarat govt refuses to concede demand to denotify Bhechraji-Mandal SIR, farmers feel "cheated"

By Our Representative
Gujarat government has refused to accept the main demand of the Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) for cancellation of the special investment region (SIR) notification for the Bhechraji-Mandal SIR, proposed as an industrial hub spread over 44 villages encompassing 530 sq km. A JAAG communique, following a meeting between JAAG representatives in Gandhinagar with a ministerial committee appointed by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to look into JAAG demands, said, "The ministers categorically refused to entertain the demand for withdrawal of the SIR notification."JAAG communique also suggested that the only "assurance" the ministers gave was the continue farming for the next three or four years, till SIR starts being implemented. Till that point, the area would be remain agricultural zone. JAAG made it clear that the "proposition is not acceptable to the movement and the people." Sources added, as for the demand to completely repeal the SIR Act, promulgated in 2009, another JAAG demand, the ministers flatly refused to entertain it altogether.
The SIR Act gives special powers to convert the entire SIR into a notified area, with a special authority having powers to overrule any decisions of local self-governing bodies. The Act, in fact, empowers the authority in such a way that it need not consult panchayats or gram sabhas before acquiring any piece of land for industrial use. This was the main reason why people 44 villages came together to begin protesting against the SIR Act in general and the Bhechraji-Mandal SIR in particular.
In view of "adamant" attitude of the Gujarat government, JAAG decided to hold next round of planning. It will "share the news and analysis with the people and to plan for the future on August 2, 2013 at village Vasna at 3 pm", the communique said. Significantly, Modi during his meeting with JAAG leaders on July 10, 2013, has assured that the demands of the people would be "respected". JAAG representatives were given the impression that Modi was talking in the context of withdrawal of the SIR notification.
Following the meeting, the Gujarat government constituted a four-member ministerial team to look into all the aspects of the proposed SIR and take a decision by August 15. The committee comprised of finance minister Nitin Patel, revenue minister Anandiben Patel, energy minister Saurabh Patel and education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, and it was made known to the protesting farmers that decision on Bhechraji-Mandal SIR would "not be taken in haste." However, things have moved the other way, and farmers are feeling "cheated", local leaders said.
Observers felt, Modi's main idea was to buy time so that the farmers' agitation became weak. He moved in to intervene after farmers of 44 villages continuously protested against the state government's decision to go ahead with the implementation of the SIR in the region. Farmers were expressing the fear that about 50,880 hectares of land would be diverted for industrial use. State government knew -- stakes were high. The new Maruti car plant is proposed in this region, at Hansalpur village on Viramgam -Becharaji highway.
Though farmers were not immediately opposing Maruti’s 640-acre plant at Hansalpur, they were against the idea of their fertile land being acquired for development of an industrial hub. Among their main demands was not to decommand the area which came under the Narmada command area. The state government had already moved to decommand a huge portion of the of the area from the Narmada command area, 2,922.68 hectares (ha) in Mandal and Detroj talukas in Ahmedabad district, and more was to follow. 

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