Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Change of purpose? Sardar Statue, tourism project on land acquired for Narmada dam, says official document

By Our Representative
Is the Gujarat government set on a developing high-profile tourism spot, which would include the 182-metre high statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, on the land acquired for the Sardar Sarovar dam – signifying a change of purpose? It would seem so, if you goes by a right to information (RTI) query is any guide. The statue is proposed as the highest bust on earth, with the cost of Rs 3,000 crore. The RTI query was filed with a Gujarat government revenue office by senior activist Kirit Rathod, who demanded official documents concerning land acquisition for the Sardar statue project, including orders, if any, regarding this.
The reply, which was given by the Narmada district collectorate’s office on February 18, 2014, said, the so-called Statue of Unity would be implemented at Limdi village, Nandod taluka, Narmada district. “The Sadhu bet as well as the surrounding area was acquired for the Narmada project, and it is in possession of mamladtar’s office, Nandod, ever since August 23, 1967. Hence, there is no need for fresh acquisition of land for the proposed project.”
Calling this a “very serious matter”, Rathod, who is with the Dalit rights body Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, said, this suggests that the purpose for which the land was acquired – building of the dam – is now set to change. If earlier it was to build the Sardar Sarovar dam, now it would become a tourism project, which would include the Sardar Statue. “How can the Gujarat government change the purpose of land acquisition like this”, the senior activist wonders.
These facts have come light against the backdrop of demand by villagers surrounding the Sardar Sarovar dam to “return” the land, acquired for the dam. The land, they say, has remained unused till now, and the purpose for which it was acquired has been “fulfilled”. Even the Kevadia colony, built on the acquired land, is being slowly getting depopulated. Hence, there is little reason why its leftover should remain with the Gujarat government any more.
Kirit Rathod
The villagers have simultaneously been demanding “fair compensation” for the land which was taken away from them for the dam. According to them, they should be paid compensation on par with the Narmada dam oustees of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The oustees, including landless, are being paid an alternative plot of land for cultivation, a house in a rehabilitation colony which has all the facilities of education and health, apart from some cash compensation. The Gujarat government has so far refused to agree.
Significantly, while the RTI reply does not mention it, the rural folk of as many as 70 villages, mostly tribals, were last year served notice that they should agree to a proposal from the Gujarat government for land acquisition for tourism project, as and when it takes place. The notice threateningly tells the village panchayats that in case they do not agree with the notice, they had better face “serious consequences.”
This flared up the tribals of 70 villagers, who formed Sitter Gaam Adivasi Sangathan, to fight against land acquisition for the tourism project. The fear of land acquisition was further aggravated following the decision of the Gujarat government to build a weir across the Narmada river, about 12 kilomtres downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam. Called Garudeshwar weir, it is supposed to store water in the 12 km stretch starting at the Narmada dam, to be used for water sports, on one hand, and supplying water to industry, on the other.

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