Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Following protests off Narmada, govt disbands tourism authority, but will acquire land as "public purpose"

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has given clear indications that, despite the tribal farmers’ protests, it will go ahead with the proposed tourism project around the so-called Statue of Unity it is planning just about three kilometers downstream of the Narmada dam. In a statement issued ahead of the stone-laying ceremony for the statue, to be in the memory of Sardar Patel on October 31, the birth anniversary of the Iron Man, and envisaged as “three times higher than the Statue of Liberty” in New York, the state government declared the area around the statue will be developed into a “world-class tourism spot”, but refused to say how much land it would acquire under "public purpose" provision of the new land acquisition Act.
The tribal farmers have already declared they will not take the package lying down. According to a statement issued by Sitter Gam Adivasi Sangathan, there is "no clarity" on whether the tourism project would be given up and the forcible acquisition of their land, as planned, would not take place in future. "Villagers will stage a protest in their village on October 31 by continuously beating steel plates and waving awareness flags to show protest that they will not be satisfied till all their demands are met", the statement said, adding, "Nor is there any clarity on what will happen to the villages, whether they will be submerged, in case the Garudeshwar weir is constructed across the Narmada 12 kilometres from the dam."
Tribal farmers of around 70 villages around the Narmada dam recently raised their pitch of protest against the threat issued to them by the Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA), a state government body formed about a year ago, and given responsibility for developing tourism in the region, that they either decide to agree to hand over their land for tourism or face consequences. Kevadia colony is the spot where the Narmada dam is situated. The protests forced the state government to call them for negotiations on October 15, where they were told to “hold on” till October 31, when the Gujarat chief minister plans to lay stone for the Sardar Statue.
Even while announcing that it has decided to “disband” KADA, which had issued the threat, the statement gives no assurance on putting off the tribals’ main – to disband the tourism project on their land. As many as 145 representatives from 70 villages had met Cabinet members of the Modi government – finance minister Nitin Patel, revenue minister Anandiben Patel and tribal and forest minister Ganpat Vasava – in order to put up the demand. The talks, which took place in the presence of Narmada district collector Rakesh Shankar, ended after the ministers succeeded in getting promise from the representatives that they would not disturb Modi’s programme on October 31.
While there is no assurance to tribal farmers that their land would not be acquired for tourism purpose, the statement states that the Gujarat government has decided to “assuage the three-decades-old demand of the tribal farmers of six villages in the immediate neighbourhood of Kevadia by providing them with a package similar to the Narmada oustees.” Other “demands” which the statement government said it has decided to meet include formation of a new taluka called Garudeshwar to include 94 villages surrounding the Narmada dam, and provide irrigation waters to the tribal farmers of these villages.
The statement suggested that the area around the proposed statue will be developed to “showcase” Gujarat’s “development efforts” in the recent past via tourism. Apart from an audio-visual show on Sardar Patel’s life, including a daily light-and-sound show, the “world-class tourism” spot would include a “virtual tour, which would showcase Gujarat’s agricultural development, water resource management, amelioration of the tribals, and other developmental activities.” There will also be a museum in the memory of Sardar Patel, people will be taken up on the statue’s top, apart from a ferry service to and from the spot where the Sardar statue is proposed, Sadhu bet.
Meanwhile, the state government declared the collection of iron from India’s farmers to build the statue on a public-private partnership mode will begin on October 31, even as top government officials once again doubting if such iron could at all be used for such a big 182-metre high statue. A knowledgeable official source said, “We have no knowledge of the quality of iron to be given to us by the people. It clearly cannot be used for building the statue. It is at best a symbolic gesture. The iron, at best, can be used for railings and such other things. Besides, we have still not gone into the cost of bringing the iron and taking it for melting for the construction of the statue.”

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