Bodakdev, a posh locality of Ahmedabad, Gujarat's business capital, has been witnessing an unusual protest since December 26, 2016. Any passer-by can see a temporary stage and tents erected and various posters installed containing slogans and other information.
The protest has been continuing outside the Plot No 391, which is adjacent to Nirma Vidyavihar, a school run by the Nirma Education and Research Foundation. Better known manufacturing soaps and detergents, Nirma is one of the most powerful industrial houses of Gujarat.
According to residents, the establishment of Nirma Vidyavihar has created “a big time problem in Bodakdev”, as the plot, which is owned by the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA), has been allegedly encroached upon by the school authorities.
“We have demanded strict action against the school authorities, but to no avail”, they complain.
Sailesh Maheshwari, a Bodakdev resident who is spearheading the protest, says, “The Nirma school was established here eight years ago. They operate from Plot No 390, which was given to them way back in 2001 at about 30% of the actual price of land existing at that time. In 2003 they put in a second application for the adjoining Plot No 391, which measures 6301 square metres.”
Adds Maheshwari, “The second plot, which was used as a playground by children, was given to the Nirma Foundation absolutely free with a returnable deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh. Under the terms, the school authorities were supposed to use the playground during the school hours. As for the rest of the time, it was to be allowed to be used by public at large.”
|AUDA notice to Nirma Foundation|
“The school authorities further put up padlocks on all the main gates, posting security guards on them to ensured that nobody enters in. They also put up nine different banners all around the periphery suggesting that the playground belongs to them”, says Maheshwari.
“Through this protest”, asserts Maheshwari, “We are pressurizing AUDA to return the playground to the residents of the area. We have also filed a PIL in High Court (PIL No 272 of 2016). However, so far nothing has happened. That is the reason why we are involving more and more people of Bodakdev to join the agitation and come forward to free the playground from the clutches of Nirma”.
On January 9, 2017, a protest walk was organized. Though the police refused permission, the residents walked around 5 kilometres from Nirma Vidyavihar to Ahmedabad International School to create an awareness about the encroachment.
“During the march we were told that similar encroachments have taken place in other parts of the city as well. We have been promised, they too would join in with their issues”, said a participant in the protest walk.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the anti-Nirma agitation may take a political colour. Kanubhai Kalasaria, a senior leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a former BJP MLA, who was earlier involved in activism against the Nirma Cement Plant in Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district, has lent in his his support.
Following Kalsaria, who has been visiting the protesters, other AAP activists have, too, have joined in. One of them, Amish Thaker, told Counterview, “AUDA has accepted that this is an illegal encroachment and has issued four notices to Nirma, threatening to destroy the encroachment. However, nothing has happened so far.”