Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sikh farmers being evicted from Kutch farmlands to "turn" district into mining haven for cement tycoons

By Our Representative
Top environmental journal “Down to Earth” has accused the Gujarat government of seeking to take away precious land, allotted to Sikh soldiers in Kutch following the Indo-Pak war in 1965, in order to help industry mine limestone for promoting cement industry. An article which has gone viral on the social media by Soma Basu in the journal says, this is the only reason why, on October 22, 2010, district collector M Thennarasan issued a notice to 784 farmers, mainly Sikhs, with the subject line, “Freezing agriculture accounts of outsiders of Gujarat state”. The notice stated that as per the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands (Vidarbha and Kutch Area) Act, 1948, mutation of land on the basis of the existing farmers’ certificates “cannot be done till further orders.”
“To keep the border safe and to create a second line of defence, Shastri had invited industrious and hard-working Sikh farmers to settle in the border areas of Kuchchh”, Basu recalls, adding, “This was also to turn the barren land green. Between 1965 and 1984, the state government allotted land to 550 farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Of these, 390 were Sikhs. Today, more than 6,000 Sikh families are settled in Lakhpat and some disputed territories like Kori Creek and Sir Creek. Lakhpat is one of the many talukas in Kuchchh district where the Gujarat government has banned mutation, or transfer of ownership, of land.”
Today, the situation is such as “farmers cannot apply for power or tubewell connections” because of the freeze order, and banks refuse loan. 
Quoting sources in the Geological Survey of India, the journal says, “Gujarat has 11,500 million tonnes of limestone, the most important ingredient for making cement. The state is the fourth largest producer of limestone in the country with 9 per cent share. Of its total deposit, 7,700 million tonnes lie in Lakhpat, Abdasa and Naliya talukas of Kutch. This is enough to construct 128,325 20-storey buildings. If Gujarat taps the limestone reserve available in Kutch, the state will become the third largest producer of limestone in India with 15 per cent share.”
The journal adds, “What’s more, underneath the limestone lie lignite reserves. Akri Mota and Lefri basins and Panandhro together have 220 million tonnes of lignite. Gujarat is the third largest producer of lignite in India.”
With plans afoot to turn Kutch into “second Jamshedpur”, the journal quotes VS Bajaj, director of Jaypee Cement, as saying at a conference five months before the state government issued the land freeze order that “with its vast mineral resources, Kutch has the potential to become an industrial city. By using modern technology and state-of-the-art infrastructure facilities, Kutch can be developed into a modern version of Jamshedpur.” The conference, it recalls, was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and GMDC.
“With Kutchs cement-grade limestone, proximity to lignite reserve and shoreline, and the low cost of mining the mineral, cement plants can be set up on a large scale and lignite can be used to fuel them, stated a report by the Industrial Extension Bureau, a state government firm that facilitates a hassle-free experience for prospective industries”, the journal points out, adding, “Just after freezing land in Kutch, in January 2011, the state signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with various cement-based companies to help them set up plants."
Some of the major companies which whom the MoUs were signed, it says, are Anil Ambani Group’s Reliance Cementation Pvt Ltd, Associated Cement Companies Ltd, Adani Enterprises Ltd, Indiabulls Construction Materials Ltd and Calcom Cement India Ltd.” During its Vibrant Gujarat campaign in 2013, the state government signed MoUs with 40 cement-based companies. These include Aditya Birla Group’s UltraTech Cement Ltd, Ambuja Cements Ltd, Binani Cement Ltd, Gujarat Sidhee Cement Limited and Saurashtra Cement Limited.

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