Thursday, August 07, 2014

Stay granted on eviction of cattle breeders of Aliyebet, proposed as Narendra Modi's El Dorado in 2010

Aliyabet island: Proposed as entertainment zone
By Rajiv Shah
In a major relief to 101 families residing at Aliyabet village, situated in the vicinity of the industrially-hyperactive Dahej region of South Gujarat, the state High Court has stayed the state forest department’s 14-year-old order to evict them from their land, calling them “illegal encroachers.” Claiming to be using the land for cattle breeding, their only occupation, for the last 60 years, the villagers received a major relief following Justice CL Soni order granting “interim protection” to the affected persons, asking the authorities “not to evict petitioners from the land till the final disposal of the civil suit pending in the civil court, Bharuch.”
The case was argued in the Gujarat High Court by senior advocate Shilpa R Shah for the affected families, who had approached an NGO, Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad, for help.
Aliyabet shot into prominence in December 2008 when a huge area next to the village, Aliyabet island, was proposed by Gujarat government officials as one of the sites for the mini-Japan they claimed Japanese investors wanted to set up in the state. The proposal was forwarded to the Japanese Export Trade Organisation (JETRO) at the Vibrant Gujarat business summit in 2009. The Japanese, who visited the site, did not like the location, and were more keen, instead, to set up a “mini-Japan” township next to the Dholera special investment region in Ahmedabad district. Dholera has been on agenda as one of the major “smart cities” of India.
Later, top international consultants, Mott MacDonald, identified Aliabet as an “ideal location” for a special investment region (SIR) for two sectors — entertainment and aquaculture. In a report it submitted to the Gujarat government in 2010, the consultants said, it was possible to set up a resort, a golf course, a film city, an amusement park and an integrated sports complex on this no-man's land. A 169-square-kilometre open space, surrounded by water from three sides and situated in the mouth of Narmada river in the Bay of Khambhat, Aliabet ceased to be an island several decades ago as silt gathered on one side changed the course of the Narmada river.
To build all this, the consultants said, it would be necessary to “landfill” the area in order to increase its height by 1.5 metres to three metres. To cost Rs 1,585 crore, the landfill was “necessary” as large portions of Aliabet turned into a wetland during monsoon. Even during high tide in the Gulf of Khambhat, water seeps into five different natural ponds existing in Aliabet. The eviction notice served on 101 residents of the Aliyabet village on July 2, 2000, apparently, came handy on the Modi government to further its idea of “clearing the area” of cattle breeders, many of whom would come from rest of India, as it’s was supposed to be of excellent quality.
The notice was initially served by the range forest officer to five members of the community, stating that within seven days of receipt of this notice, “all huts and mosques would be removed from the Aliyabet area and legal proceedings would be initiated”. One of the elders from the village, Hasanbhai Habbibbhai Jat, took the lead in filing a civil suit in a Bharuch court on behalf of 101 families residing at Aliyabet village. They sought a permanent injunction from the court to the effect that the “suit property” (land) was in their possession, and the petitioners had become the owners of the land “by way of adverse possession”. The petitioners also said the land may be declared waste land and the respondents (state government) be restrained from evicting them from the land.
The petitioners also made an application for interim injunction, which was rejected by the additional senior civil judge, Bharuch on July 12, 2006. This made them appeal in the district court, Bharuch, where too the plea for interim injunction was rejected, forcing the petitioners to approach the High Court, saying they should be given “permanent injunction”. The High Court set aside the local courts’ orders and granted “interim protection in the interest of justice”, the advocate said. The High Court order restrained “the respondents from eviction and dispossessing the petitioners from the suit property, pending the admission, hearing and final disposal of the petition.”
In their appeal before the High Court, Aliyabet residents said that effort to evict them of the Aliyabet residents was “against the principles of natural justice and provisions of law, without application of mind, atrocious, illegal and improper.” The notice to evict them was served to them despite the fact that they were in possession of all necessary documents, including ration cards, voter ID cards, fishing license, and are on record of using the land for cattle grazing as far back as 1916, for which they were issued receipts in 1916 and 1960. Despite all this, and other proofs, including maps, the petitions were declared “illegal encroachers.”
Aliyebet residents argued, “Even if it is to be believed that the petitions are illegal encroachers, they cannot be evicted and dispossessed of the suit property without following any procedure of law or by giving alternative accommodation.” It adds, “In several cases of illegal encroachment, the government has come out with various alternative schemes/ accommodations to protect the interest of such persons.”

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