Khedut Samaj Gujarat (KSG), the state's non-political farmers' organization which has successfully fought few major battles against land acquisition in special investment regions (SIRs) formed to speed up industrialization across the state, has announced that it would take out what it called “vedna yatra” (pain march) from Somnath to Gandhinagar from December 11 to January 2 to “highlight” farmers' plight.
KSG general secretary Sagar Rabari, who would walk on foot for 450 km all alone, said, he would be accompanied in between by farmers of different villages. Addressing newspersons in Ahmedabad, he added, following the Government of India's demonetization move, Gujarat farmers have been further pushed to distress after they were made to suffer from different laws to indiscriminately acquire land.
Asking three nother new non-political organizations that have cropped up across Gujarat in the recent past – Hardik Patel's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Apesh Thakor's Other Backward Class (OBC), and Jignesh Mavani's Dalit Adhikar Manch (DAM) – to support his yatra, Rabari said, the idea is to highlight the farmers' sorrow ahead of the Vibrant Gujarat business summit.
To be held on January 10-11 at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, the plan is to oppose the Vibrant Gujarat summit by holding a 10,000-strong farmers' rally in the state capital. “The summit is a pro-industry and anti-farmer. It is being held against the backdrop of several laws passed by the Gujarat government to acquire farmers' land”, Rabari alleged.
“Facing distress due to irregular rainfall over the last three years, several anti-farmer laws were simultaneously imposed on Gujarat farmers. One of of them was to set aside certain progressive provisions of the Central Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 2013. Under this law, the Gujarat government dropped LAA's provision of social impact assessment (SIA) or consent for acquiring farmers' land”, he said.
Another law passed by the Gujarat government is the SIR Act, Rabari said. Under this Act, the Gujarat government can turn the entire SIR zone into a town planning area. By applying the town planning Act on SIR, it can acquire 50 per cent of farmers' land for urban infrastructure without taking their consent. Opposed by farmers under KSG, the state government was forced to drastically downside the Bechraji-Mandal SIR following long-drawn-out agitations two years ago.
The third one is irrigation Act, passed in 2015. “While this law has still not been implemented as no rule has been formed, it is patently anti-farmer, as it defines canal as not just irrigation canals as they are usually understood, but also any stream which flows during rainy season. The farmer is not allowed to use the a specified area of the land of this stream without the permission of the canal officer. If he does, he would face Rs 5,000 fine and three months' imprisonment”, Rabari said.
“The irrigation Act further bars anyone to pick up wood for even domestic burning in this zone, and says that if someone found guilty would be charged with Rs 10,000 fine and six months imprisonment”, Rabari said, adding, “It also seeks all farmers to register tubewells and wells in their fields, and requires farmers to take government permission to set up them up in future.”
“We oppose all these laws and want the state government to take them back”, he said, adding, “As for demonetization, it has particularly badly affected the farmers who produce vegetables. The farmers are being forced to either distress sell their vegetables, or allow them to rot for failing to get cash in return. For instance, they are forced to sell chili at Rs 2 per kg and tomatoes at Rs 5 per kg, while both the vegetables are available to the consumer at several times higher rate”, he said.
Rabari also said, against the backdrop of demonetization, he wants the Gujarat chief minister to waive farmers’ debts, which amount to Rs 30,000 crore, and declaring a date for complete payment of crop insurance they are entitled to receive because of natural disasters. “Also, the government should provide cash help of Rs 50,000, needed against the backdrop of the loss they have suffered because of demonetization”, he added.