Thursday, December 19, 2013

Opposition to land acquisition in Gujarat picks up, with JAAG expanding its wings towards Dholera SIR

By Our Representative
Movement against “indiscriminate” acquisition of land for industrial use has come to Ahmedabad’s footsteps. Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), the state body which led a campaign against Mandal-Becharaji special investment region (SIR) in North Gujarat, forcing the Gujarat government to remove 36 of the 44 villages from the SIR area, held its first meeting to give vent to “people’s anger” against the formation of Gujarat’s biggest SIR – in Dholera region in Ahmedabad district.
At a well-attended meeting at village Bawaliari decided to hold several protest rallies against the SIR, including a motorbike rally, which would go around all the 22 villages encompassed in Dholera SIR.
JAAG statement said, “The farmers in the Dholera SIR area, spread over 920 sq km, also want to save their farmlands, pasturelands and wastelands. They contacted the activists of JAAG seeking support in their struggle. Consequently, a meeting of the people of the area was called on December 18, 2013, in village Bawaliari. The meeting saw the presence of leaders from various villages and activists numbering around 250.”
The statement quoted leader of Bawaliari village, Pradyumansinh Chudasama, as telling the meeting that the government’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Dholera SIR had included in the SIR area “the submerged village of Mandvipura, where a recreation zone has been planned”. Expressing surprise over this, he underlined, there were “numerous such examples to prove that the report prepared by the government had no connection with the actual condition on the ground, it was false and misleading and prepared with people sitting in offices.”
Another instance Chudasama cited was the allotment of the final plot for agriculture which has been, for the last about a decade, lying “submerged under seawater.” Worse, he added, “there are resolutions and government resolutions (GRs) seeking to impose betterment taxes”, which was in sharp contrast to the earlier promise that the land would be developed at no cost to them. “This was grossly unjust and that the farmers’ pleas had gone unheeded”, he declared, calling for a strong resistance to this “injustice.”
Participating in the meeting, former finance minister of Gujarat Sanat Mehta, called upon the farmers to fight the government on this issue. He recalled his struggle to get the Narmada waters to the Bhal region, but said, “The present government is going all out to decommand the area from the Narmada command area.”
Yet another participant, former MLA from Mahua and the president of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Dr Kanubhai Kalsariya, pledged full support to the movement and called upon the people of Dholera region area to “put their differences aside and put up a united fight to save their lands”, JAAG said.
JAAG leader Lalji Desai focussed on “consolidating the organisational strength” of the farmers’ body, while senior activist Rajnibhai Dave talked about “alternative development paradigm”. Yet another activist, Anand Mazgaonkar outlined the important issues to be borne in mind during the Environmental Public Hearing, to be held on January 3, 2014, in Dholera, and the “machinations of the government and officials.”
Another JAAG leader Sagar Rabari outlined the various provisions of the SIR Act, the newly enacted irrigation and drainage Act, and how these new legal instruments were actually anti-people. “He called for a strong organisational response to this”, JAAG said. Among other activists who participated the meeting were Raju Deepti, Swati Desai, Persis Ginwalla, Deepti Raju, Micheal Mazgoankar, Sonal Mehta, Mahesh Parmar, Krishnakant, Rohit Prajapati, Lakhan Musafir, and others.
Taking strong exception to the manner in which the government was seeking to sell/lease pastureland, wasteland and other common property resources in the state, the JAAG statement said, “The Government of Gujarat brought out the Special Investment Region Act in 2009 (with provisions of Town Planning taken from the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1973) to give in to the ever-increasing greed of the corporate lobby.”
It insisted, “This will facilitate releasing nearly 50 per cent of land holdings of private land owners/farmers without any compensation whatsoever. The farmers in the Mandal-Bechraji SIR area fought against this machination of the government and the government had to bow to the people’s wishes.”

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