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Rich farmers of Mandal-Becharaji area "regret" taking part in agitation against special investment region

Rich farmers "opposing" SIR
By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat government may have gone on the back foot by excluding 36 of the 44 villages from its proposed special investment region (SIR) in the Mandal -Becharaji area of North Gujarat, but now there is enough reason for it to "cheer". Sharp rise in the land prices in the eight villages that will now be included in the newly-formed SIR – Bhagapura and Shihor of Detroj taluka, Hansalpur-Becharaji, Sitapur, Udhroj, Udhrojpura and Ukardi of Mandal taluka, Chandanki village of Becharaji taluka – is leading to a situation where a section of the rich landowners of rest of the 36 villages are said to be regretting why they protested against SIR.
Informed sources close to the development say, land prices in the eight villages have gone up so high that they are “double those that exist next to the Tata Motors’ Nano plant in Sanand area in Ahmedabad district.” They add, “The highest land price around the Nano plant is Rs 1.5 crore per bigha, while those next to the proposed Maruti-Suzuki plant, which is central to the SIR, have peaked Rs 3 crore per bigha. A section of the influential persons who participated in the agitation against the SIR under the Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) never expected this to happen.”
In fact, if these sources are to be believed, some of the well-off landowners of the 36 villages have told JAAG leaders that they regret the day when they joined the agitation, which continued for about a year. “It seems clear that these landowners participated in the agitation only to raise the price of the land, and not against the SIR. While today the landowners of the eight villagers are rejoicing, their counterparts feel let down. In fact, some of them have informally told JAAG leaders whether it would be possible to reverse the decision of opposing the Becharaji-Mandal SIR”, the source said.
The suspicion is that, a few of the politically influential landowners may have approached the Gujarat government requesting for reversal of the decision to exclude 36 villages from the SIR. “Already, JAAG is failing to mobilize farmers of the Becharaji-Mandal area in favour of its main demand – to pressure the Gujarat government to abrogate the SIR Act itself, which puts the entire SIR region under a notified authority. Under the Act, this notified authority is more powerful than any local self-governing authority all issues of overall development, including land acquisition”, the sources pointed out.
Latest developments around the proposed Maruti-Suzuki plant suggest that the Gujarat government is doing all it can to raise the value of the Becharaji-Mandal area. Already, the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) is going ahead with its plans of setting up three industrial estates in the area by acquiring around 1,000 hectares of land in villages including Vithalpur and Bhagapura in Mandal and Detroj talukas. Sources said that the process of land acquisition has already started and is progressing gradually.
This is happening at a time when the land prices in Sanand are softening for the first time after a continuous appreciation since 2008 when Tata Motors set up the Nano plant in the Ahmedabad neighbourhood. Sanand land prices had shot up more than 300 per cent in three years. This led to a situation where farmers could command whatever price. The situation reached the extent where there were no takers and farmers in need of money began selling their land at 10-20 per cent lower rates. Average price of agricultural land jumped to more than Rs 1 crore per bigha, which was around Rs 10 lakh per bigha four years ago.
Meanwhile, the Mandal-Becharaji area continued to witness increasing demand for land as real estate developers try hard to build a land bank in the region. There is a distinct view that the demand for real estate is likely to rise considerably in the coming years. Already, India’s two-wheeler giant Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India (HMSI) is being wooed to put up a project in the vicinity. HMSI is said to be planning to set up its fourth manufacturing plant in the country in Gujarat. "The company has been looking for land in the Mandal-Becharaji region," a senior state official was quoted as saying.

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