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Villagers oppose Gujarat government "decision" to acquire their land off Narmada for tourism purpose

The protest meeting. Pix Rohit Prajapati
By Our Representative
Fearing forcible acquisition of land for tourism purpose, a villagers’ meeting near Kevadia colony, the site of the Narmada dam, has taken the pledge that they would not part with their “land, forest and river”, sought to be “snatched away by the state and the authority”. The pledge, taken on the 114th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on the bank of the river Narmada, added, “We the working people collectively resolve that the forest, land, and the river are a lifeline for us which are our heritage handed down to us by our ancestors. It is our duty to protect our heritage for which we have organized ourselves. The state and authority want to snatch away our land, forest and river in the name of development.”
The meeting took place against the backdrop of the Gujarat government’s strongly-worded letter to sarpanches of 50-odd villages to either comply by its decision to include their land as part of the Kevadia Area Development Authority’s (KADA’s) plan to convert the area around the Narmada dam into a high-profile tourism spot or face consequences. The letter was written in March 2013 by the chief executive officer of KADA, which comes directly under the state urban development department.
On October 1, the state government tried to do some damage control exercise ahead of the villagers’ meeting, which took place on at Indravarna village. The officials, who called sarpanches of these villages, told the sarpanches called for an urgent get-together at Shoolpaneshwar temple on Narmada river’s bank, that they wanted to clear some “misapprehensions.” However, as the sarpanches failed to get a satisfactory answer, the villagers continued with their meeting.
Moderated by Narendrabhai with Rameshbhai from Indravarna village, Nareshbhai Tadvi from Kevadia, Rameshbhai Tadvi from Khadagda, Ranchodbhai from Sakva, Ansuyaben and Dhakalbhai from
Dharmapur, Dakshaben Tadvi from Pichipura, Lakhan Mussafir, the meeting was attended by several activists, including Aditi Chanchani, a researcher with Equations, which is an NGO which works on tourism issues and social impact assessment; Rajesh Mishra of Arch-Vahini, which is working among tribals of the area; and Badribhai Joshi, an eminent Gandhian fighting for farmer's rights.
Policemen stop people from going to the meeting
Representatives from other NGOs which were present on the occasion were Gujarat Sarvodaya Mandal, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Sahiyar, Jyoti Karmachari Mandal, People's Union for Civil Liberties, people from Dangs and Manviya Technology Forum.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said, “The speakers raised various issues linked to how can we trust the government to do justice to 70 villages when the issue of the six villages since 1961 remain unresolved.” The reference was to the six villagers whose land was taken away to build the Narmada dam. Of the 70 villagers, 16 are such which have already been included in KADA, while the rest are allegedly facing the “threat” from KADA.
The statement quoted the villagers as saying that they do not want their children to work as labourers in hotels and their womenfolk to be involve in sex work – “these along with other concerns were raised on the nature of tourism that these developments will bring with it.” Especially taking strong exception to a huge police force called at the meeting venue, the statement said, “The progressive people and organizations of Gujarat should ask a question to the state machinery was the police force mobilized for law and order or create terror and threat among people to suppress their concerns.”
It added, “A huge police force of men and women was mobilized by the state to create an atmosphere of terror and threat among the villagers to prevent them from reaching the place of the meeting where they were to discuss and raise their grievances against KADA. Even photographs and video was taken of the villagers who were on their way to the venue of the meeting to scare them. When people are ready for a dialogue with the authority, why are the voices now being suppressed?”
The statement further said, “On October 1, 2013, the district collector and KADA authorities organized an urgent meeting with sarpanches, panchayat members and the talatis (lowest level revenue officials) to indirectly communicate to the people not to join the meeting. In spite of these efforts by the state and KADA authority, over 1200 people from the villages attended the meeting and resolved to fight back this inhuman and unconstitutional action.”
The statement regretted that though chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, chairman and CEO of KADA, and the Narmada district collector were invited for a dialogue at the meeting in order to present their views before the villagers, the authorities reacted with police force being sent on the spot of the meeting. “We regret to state that they chose to remain absent from the meeting, which is unfortunate”, it added.

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