Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BJP, Congress politicians got together to deprive farmers of land in Gujarat for constructing Junagadh bypass

Protesters against bypass being detained in March 2014
By Our Representative
Four years after farmers’ prolonged protests broke out against efforts to divert 177 hectares (ha) of land for the construction of 20-km six-lane national highway as bypass to Junagadh city of Saurashtra in Gujarat, a fact-finding team of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has alleged political conspiracy being hatched while going ahead with efforts to take away parts of farmers’ fertile agricultural for the project. Talking with newspersons, PUCL general secretary Gautam Thakar said, “We found that these politicians, mainly from the BJP, and supported by the UPA government in Delhi, did not want their land to be acquired for the previously planned bypass, which was to be just seven-km long.”
The previous seven-km bypass was to take a very short curve, just outside the Junagadh township, where apparently these politicians had their land. Hence, the PUCL alleged, these politicians got together and "decided" in favour of a longer curve, 20-km-long. Among those who wrote letters to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for the new six-lane road were Vitthal Radadia, formerly with the Congress and now a BJP MP, and Mohan Kundariya, a minister in the Modi government in Delhi. “Even the feasibility report suggests that the diversion to 20-km-road happened following representations from local politicians. We have got proof”, Thakar said.
The PUCL report on the bypass calls the project “contentious”, saying, the farmers of the area, organized under the banner of Khedut Hit Rakshak Samiti, are resisting it on the ground that the it was sanctioned “illegally, in contravention of the norms and regulations to favour a few politicians, whose land was to be acquired.” This is depriving 250 families of agricultural land and livelihood. Those who went for spot assessment for the report included, apart from Thakar, Persis Ginwalla, a development sector professional; Mahesh Pandya, director, Paryavaran Mitra; and Sagar Rabari of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj.
Pandya, an environmentalist, told newspersons, “What is particularly shocking is that even the Environmental Public Hearing for the 20-metre six-lane highway has not been held. Earlier, a hearing took place, but that was for the seven-km road. Despite locals’ demand, a fresh hearing was never held. A perusal of the feasibility report suggested that there is not much traffic on the road which the bypass is supposed to connect, between Somnath Temple and Jetpur. The matter is currently lying before the Gujarat High Court for a final judgment.”
Significantly, according to the report, the earlier proposal to have a seven-km Junagadh bypass was approved by the farmers in a public hearing way back in 2010. However, that year, “when the staff of NHAI came to the fields for site measurement, the farmers came to know that their fields were being measured for a bypass which was totally different from what was earlier proposed. When they inquired they found that the original alignment was changed and another one, of 20 km, was proposed and approved.”
The report further says, “Their land was to be acquired for the purpose of the seven-km bypass. But some politicians used their influence with the NHAI and ministers in the then Central government which resulted in a change in the alignment so that the land of the politicians does not have to be acquired. Queries under right to information (RTI) have revealed the fact that such petitions were indeed made by some politicians.”
The report underlines, this is a clear case of the “the state is colluding to protect the interests of politicians while turning a blind eye to the suffering of small farmers and the cost to the exchequer.” Pointing out that there is no industrial area in the region, it adds, “The traffic on the existing highway does not merit the construction of a new highway. Average daily traffic on project corridor varies from 5,815 to 14,941 vehicles. The non‐motorized vehicles have a very small share in the total vehicular composition (3.7 per cent maximum).”
The report recommends, “Looking at the food security of the nation, wasting 177 ha of highly fertile land yielding three crops annually seem like a waste of national resource. More than 250 families will be affected… The NHAI report mentions that the land which would be required to be acquired is of low quality and yield. However, on first‐hand inspection it was found to be high‐yielding fertile land, on which the owners take three crops of groundnut, cotton, sesame, cumin, coriander, and seasonal vegetables annually.”

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