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Villagers surrounding Kevadia colony at Narmada dam oppose tourism projects, say give us water first

By Our Representative
Several villagers surrounding the Kevadia colony, the place where the Narmada dam is situated in South Gujarat, have come together to launch struggle under the banner of Kevadiya Area Development Authority (KADA) Virodhi Manch to oppose implementation of the notication, issued eight years ago, for developing water park, hotels, golf course, camping grounds, trekking trails, boating facilities, sunset viewpoints, resort clubs, etc in the region. "Originally this was planned on the lands of 16 villages. Now this has been expanded to be built on lands acquired from 70 villages", a KADA Virodhi Manch statement issued in the wake of a meeting on May 27 at Kevadia colony said.
Pointing out that villagers around the Kevadia colony were uprooted from their lands and homes for the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam, its canals and relevant roads and infrastructure, the statement said, "There is an atmosphere of fear and trauma in connection with KADA plans. The whole area is abuzz with people discussing what the KADA plans. A meeting was organised to gather more information about the plans as well as to think and discuss about them as a community. People in large number from 70 affected villages gathered to chalk out a plan of action.".
Senior activist Rohit Prajapati, meanwhile, said, "Along with the issue of land in this area of 70 villages there are two kinds of irrigation projects which have affected people in the surrounding areas -- the Karjan Irrigation Project and the Sardar Sarovar Irrigation Project. It is a shame that neither of these projects have fulfilled the water needs of the people of the area. This despite the fact that the people of the area lost precious land for these projects."
He adds, "Even after 20 years the canals have not been completed. Wherever they have been completed in the Narmada command area, they are not being maintained. Infrastructure of minor irrigation canals has not even been created and therefore the promised waters from Narmada canal has not reached farmers in the command area. When farmers try to irrigate at their own expense the administration prevents them and people are harassed. Water pipelines of farmers are destroyed."
The gathering at Kevadia resolved to oppose KADA plans. "Any plans by the administration to promote the pleasures for the urban upper middle classes by displacing and destroying the livelihoods of this community is not welcome. Converting sacred places to tourism spots does not agree with the culture or the holy traditions of the Narmada valley. We vehemently oppose attack on the community's culture and tradition", the KADA Virodhi Manch statement reads.
The meeting also resolves to demand drinking and irrigation water supplies to the villages immediately. "The hilly areas of this region high level (elevated) canals should also be urgently completed. The KADA Virodhi Manch is determined to non-violently oppose KADA plans if these are sought to be forcefully implemented", it adds. The statement has been signed, among others, by Gemjibhai, Bachubhai, Mangubha, Lakhanbhai and others.
First attempts to oppose the KADA plan were made in 2005, when a notification was issued to go ahead with tourism facilities in the region. In 2010 the residents of Kevadia, along with the people from some other tribal villages, organised a rally in June second week to protest against the inclusion of the village in a tourism project.Kevadia markets observed a bandh in protest against KADA plans. Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who wanted to participate in the rally, was stopped by the local police midway.
The Sardar Sarovar Nigam Limited (SSNNL) acquired lands from around 16 villages, including Kevadia, in 1962 to build the dam. Now, the villagers want the land back, say sources. They are protesting against the move to give it to a private player to develop the region into a tourism spot. The view of the villagers is, the state must give the land back to the residents of the Kevadia colony, as it has not been utilised for the purpose it was acquired for. "The Gujarat government set up the Kevadia Area Development Authority in Narmada district to develop tourism infrastructure claiming it would generate employment facilities to the 16 villages affected by the SSNNL", they add.
The Narmada Bachao Andoloan (NBA) has been behind the opposition to tourism projects on the ground that tribal people should not be displaced in the name of “eco-tourism”. In fact NBA was the first to oppose KADA in 2005, saying, "At the Sardar Sarovar dam site, tribal people have already suffered displacement and appropriation of their lands many years ago. But because of their struggle they have managed to stay on their lands. Now, a planned tourism project comes as a new threat".
The Gujarat government plans to develop “eco-tourism” project on around 1,400 hectares of land, which include infrastructure facilies such as water theme parks, golf courses, hotels, restaurants, cottages and camping facilities. More recently, the government planned to install a 182-metre tall statue of Sardar Patel for Rs 2,000 crore. The Ahmedabad-based Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) was handed over the job of preparing a master plan for tourism project in the area. NBA sources believe, "In Gujarat’s vocabulary, though, “eco” seems to stand for ‘economic’ and not ‘ecological’. The projects are being pursued to raise funds for the Sardar Sarovar Project, whose financial cost has already increased to more than six times its original cost."
In NBA's calculations about 900 families in six villages have already been adversely affected because of the the dam. These are Kevadia, Kothi, Waghodia, Navagam, Limdi and Gora. "The agricultural lands and houses of the people of these villages were acquisitioned for the Sardar Sarovar Project colony, now called Kevadia Colony, as early as 1961. At that time, they were offered a measly Rs. 80 to 250 per acre as compensation, far below the true cost of land even at that time", an NBA source said.
It underlined, "But more importantly, they have not been recognized as project-affected persons (PAPs), meaning that they are not entitled to land-based rehabilitation. They have already lost the rights to their land a long time ago, but because of their struggle, they managed to stay on in their homes and some even continued to cultivate small pieces of land. But now they are threatened with actual eviction, once the planned tourism project is implemented."
It added, "Tourism is not the ‘public purpose’ for which their lands were originally acquisitioned. Their lands were acquired for the dam colony. Tourism is considered as an industry and many private enterprises have been invited in to participate in this venture at Kevadia. It is a project being pursued for private interests, not for the public good", . Will wondering, will tourism at Narmada raise awareness among tourists about the struggles of the adivasis for their livelihood and land? Will tourism educate the visitors about the submerging of culture, history and livelihoods of the people? Or will it lead to further displacement?" 

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