Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dholera SIR challenged: Gujarat High Court bench issues notice to state, central government

Farmers of Dholera SIR
By Our Representative
Five years after it was enacted, a farmers’ body of Gujarat has challenged the constitutional validity of the state’s Special Investment Region (SIR) Act, 2009. The Gujarat Khedut Samaj (GKU), in a statement issued in Ahmedabad, said that the GKU, in association with “residents of 22 villages of Dholera SIR” -- being set up on 55,000 hectares (ha) of land towards the south of Ahmedabad along the Gulf of Khambhat as a smart city as a Central government project -- have “challenged” the Act and the notification declaring Dholera region as SIR.
“The division bench of the Gujarat High Court consisting of Chief Justice Bhattacharya and Justice Jamshed Pardiwala heard the plea filed by senior advocate Krishnakant Vakharia and admitted the petition. They have issued notices to the Dholera SIR Authority, the Government of Gujarat and the Government of India. The prayer for a stay order will be heard after two weeks”, the statement said.
The Gujarat government has planned a dozen SIRs, of which two are under implementation – in Dholera and in Dahej-Hazira in South Gujarat. One of the dozen SIRs, Mandal-Bhechraji in North Gujarat, was drastically scaled down from 44 villages to just eight villages following farmers’ protests.
Challenging the Act, the petitioners said, as per the section 17 of the Act, the Gujarat government “can apply the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act under which it has the right to take away 50 per cent of the farmers’ land without any compensation.” They added, “The powers and jurisdiction of the panchayats have been restricted to the village gamtal only.”
At the same time, the petitioners underlined, “The provisions of the SIR Act are contrary to the provisions in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution pertaining to panchayats, and is therefore unconstitutional.” According to a senior constitutional expert, “The 9th schedule was included in the Indian constitution with the objective to deny the courts the power to challenge the validity of certain laws framed by Parliament to protect citizens from violation of fundamental rights and measures progressive land reforms laws.”
The decision to challenge the SIR Act comes following a flutter among Dholera SIR farmers, who have received notices to acquire 50 per cent of their land they have been owning for generations (click HERE to read). The notice, copies of which are with Counterview, warns the farmers that they must report to the authorities on a given date and hand over the possession of their land.
The notice further says, the farmers must instead take the title of a new piece, which would be half of the original. If they fail to do it, the Dholera SIR authorities reserve the right to evict them from their original piece land. The land, the notice says, has been taken away, under Section 17(2) of the Gujarat SIR Act, 2009, which puts the entire SIR area under the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976 for developing roads for the SIR.
Significantly, the issue of 50 per cent deduction of land came up at the environmental public hearing for Dholera SIR, which took place on January 3, 2014, where farmers raised strong protest against it. The Gujarat government officials told them that in the “Development Plan and Draft Town Plan” for Dholera, there wouldn’t be any deduction of land only for “notified rivers, ponds and water bodies”, but “with a view to provide world class infrastructure and premium civic amenities in Dholera SIR, a policy decision has been taken on 50 per cent deduction of land”.
KD Chandnani, CEO, Dholera SIR Development Authority, told the hearing, “Under the Town Planning Scheme, after deduction of land up to 50 per cent, land will be allotted to the original land owner in a geometric shape, and with all the infrastructure facilities, in the form of a final plot. Compensation for the deducted land will be paid as per the jantri April 2011.” Jantri is the government assessment of the value of land, and the rate being applied as compensation is several times less than the market value the farmers can get in case they sale away their land on their own today.

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