Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Second "clampdown": Gujarat police stop Swaraj Abhiyan volunteers on way to villages around Tata Nano site

Swaraj Abhiyan volunteers stopped by cops from distributing leaflet
By Our Representative
In a second attempt to “strangle” the fledgling Swaraj Abhiyan in less than a month, on June 15 the Gujarat police allegedly hounded a team of dozen-odd volunteers who were on their way to the villages surrounding the high-profile Tata Nano plant in Ahmedabad district, off Sanand town. The volunteers had planned to distribute a “Jai Kisan” leaflet in six odd villages, seeking farmers’ support to oppose the controversial amendments to the land acquisition Act (LAA).
Part of the all-India campaign to organize its first all-India rally in Delhi on August 10 focused on farmers’ issues, earlier, on May 25, Swaraj Abhiyan leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prof Anand Kumar were disallowed from holding a supporters’ meet in Ahmedabad’s Mehdi Nawaj Jung Hall, though they had a formal permission. The cops locked the gates of the hall, which is under the Gujarat governor, forcing the supporters to hold the meeting outside, in the compound, sitting on the floor.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) breakaway group’s senior journalist-turned-political activist Nachiketa Desai told Counterview, “Even before Swaraj Abhiayan’s volunteers began on their journey to Sanand villages on June 15 to hold a dialogue with the farmers whose lands had been acquired for the much tom-tommed auto hub, we began getting phone calls from senior district police officials seeking to know what our plans were.” 
Interaction with youth of Shiyawala village on being allowed to proceed
Received by him and Swaraj Abhiyan Ahmedabad district convener, Gujarat high court advocate KR Koshti, Desai said, “Though the police was told that the plan was to visit the villages around the proposed auto hub and interview villagers about their problems and distribute leaflets, we were stopped at the new police station set up just outside the Sanand Industrial Estate.”
“A posse of policemen, led by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, was standing guard at the police chowky. The police asked all of us to come inside and made us answer their questions. They took down the names of each of us, asking us which villages we planned to visit”, Desai said, adding, “Their aim seemed to be to delay our visit to the villages. They strangely told us they apprehended law and order problem if we distributed leaflets.”
“When at one point the police officer asked us to seek permission of the sub-divisional magistrate before proceeding for the villages, Koshti protested, saying this was against law and no permission was needed if it was not a rally, and the police so wished we could be arrested”, Desai said, adding, “This made the cops a little nervous, allowing us to finally proceed, telling us that a party of intelligence officers in plain clothes would follow us in a separate vehicle.”
“We were told by the police officer not to enter any village in our cars as it would appear to be a rally and people start thronging us. We complied with this and parked our cars about one kilometre before the village and walked the distance”, Desai said, adding, “One of the police officials informally said, there were clearcut instructions from the top to stop any efforts to incite farmers. Even a small spark might cause a big fire, looked as if the state government was sitting on a tinderbox.”
Farmers complain of lack of livelihood options
On reaching village Shiyawala – the only village they could approach as much of the time was taken away by the cops – the farmers met Swaraj Abhiyan volunteers “individually andin groups and opened their hearts freely”, Desai reported, adding, “According to villagers, the government had not fulfilled most of the promises and paid them only a partial amount of the promised compensation. While lands have been taken away, nobody had been offered any jobs as a source of livelihood. The villagers were also promised homstead land, a promise not fulfilled”, Desai said.
Meanwhile, the Swaraj Abhiyan’s Gujarat unit has decided to make similar reach out programmes in villages around proposed and existing industrial hubs where farmers are unhappy with the land acquisition process. The spots chosen for future campaign include Dholera special investment region, Mundra special economic zone, Mithi Virdi where a nuclear plant is being planned, Jamnagar, Surat, Dahej, and so on.

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