Friday, December 11, 2015

Land acquisition for Dholera smart city stayed: Setback to Gujarat government, farmers relieved

Farmers protest against Dholera SIR in November first week
By Our Representative
In an important "relief" to the farmers of living in the 900 sq km Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), touted by the Gujarat government as a Greenfield smart city about 100 kilometres south of Ahmedabad, the Gujarat High Court has order to maintain status quo on land acquisition for going ahead with the project.
The Gujarat Khedut Samaj (GKS), an upcoming farmers’ organization, along with the local farmers’ organization, Bhal Bachao Samiti (BBS), had approached the High Court with a public interest litigation (PIL) No 227/2014 against Gujarat Government’s decision to develop the area under the Special Investment Region (SIR) Act, 2009. It came up for hearing on Thursday.
The petition, argued by senior advocate Krishnakant Vakhariya, known to be attached with the Congress, “argued on the constitutional point that the power given to the Gram Panchayats cannot be taken away by a notification” on land acquisition, said Sagar Rabari of the GKS.
Those belonging to villages Kadipur, Bhadiad, Gorasu, Otariya, Dholera, Khun, Bhimtalav, Rahtalav, Mundi and Sandhida of Dholera SIR would gain immediate relief, as state officials were found going around several villages, handing over notices served to the farmers about their land having been "acquired". 
"The people in one of the villages gheraoed the officials and did not allow them to carry out their task. After much persuasion they were allowed to leave in the evening. In another village they were simply shooed out of the village", Rabari said.
Earlier, thousands of farmers of Dholera SIR were sent notices under the Gujarat town planning law that they should be ready to surrender 50 per cent of their land in the name of developing infrastructure of the proposed smart city. The law empowers the state to acquire a portion of agricultural land.
The compensation payable, under the law, interestingly, is equal to the government-determined value of land, called jantri, which is often several times lower than the market rate. Fixed about four years ago, jantri is not revised every year, as required.
While the farmers’ land has still not be physically acquired, the Gujarat government quietly “declared” in mid-2015 that about 29,503 hactares (ha) of land of the Dholera SIR, which was handed over to small farmers during land reforms days in 1960s, but whose land titles remained unclear, have become the property of the special purpose vehicle (SPV), created for the smart city.
All this angered the farmers, but when the proposed to begin a protest, in October-end, the Gujarat government stopped the farmers from protesting for their demands, saying this would create “law and order” problems in the region. Following the High Court order, however, the government was forced to allow the protest to take place.
The GKS petition asked the Gujarat High Court to declare ultra vires particular provisions of land acquisition under the Gujarat SIR Act, 2009, as they were against “the basic structure of the Constitution of India”, especially the articles, which allow freedom of the farmers to express their view as equal citizens.
The GKS particularly sought High Court intervention to “quash and set aside the Development Plan and Town Planning Scheme” applied on the Dholera SIR, saying this has been done without consultation of the villagers concerned.
It said, “appropriate directions” should given to “restrain” the government “from taking possession of the land from the land owners in the Region without complying with the provisions of Resettlement Act, more particularly without payment of compensation as contemplated under the Resettlement Act.”
Further, it said, the Gujarat government should be stayed from its decision to de-command the Dholera SIR region, which was to get waters from the Narmada canal for cultivation. “Pending final hearing of this petition”, it said, “an interim relief… from de-commanding the area of 22 villages” of the SIR area, allowing the farmers benefit of the Narmada water.
Meanwhile, there were indications that the government refusal to provide Narmada waters to Dholera SIR is likely to affect the rural areas in the east of region, including those in Bhavnagar. Babubhai Panara, sarpanch of village Rajgadh of Bhavnagar taluka has gone on an indefinite fast protesting the government’s refusal to provide irrigation water to downstream villages beyond Nawda. 
"He has been joined by many people of the area. The Dhandhuka-Barwala branch canal of the Narmada canal provides drinking water to Saurashtra which is pumped from village Nawda. The entire canal (from Barwala) is completed yet irrigation water is being denied to the downstream villages. No minister or government official has bothered to talk to the people", Rabari said.

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