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Poor compensation for land acquisition, rampant mining in Narmada bed

By Rajiv Shah 
Farmers in the area around Suva village in Dahej PCPIR in South Gujarat are restive. Their land has been taken away and handed over to top industrial groups, and they have received poor compensation. Worse, the entire area is facing environmental destruction, one one hand, and loss of livelihood, on the other. 
The Gujarat government’s effort to acquire huge tracts of land, both public and private, to develop Petroleum, Chemical and Petrochemical Industrial Region (PCPIR) in Dahej in South Gujarat as one of the 13 special investment regions (SIRs) being developed in Gujarat has caused flutter among the rural folk, especially farmers, of Suva village, situated on the banks of Narmada river, off the Gulf of Khambhat. Spread over 453 sq km of brownfield area, and likely to cost state coffers around Rs 1,809 crore (2011 prices) for land compensation, people of this village feel that despite such amount being mentioned in official documents for payment, they were cheated with “low compensation” in the name of development. The village folk also allege that their means of livelihood has been adversely affected, as the common grazing land meant for their cattle has been taken away.
While official documents say that an estimated investment worth around Rs 1.4 lakh crore in the PCPIR boundary would modernize the whole region, and push it out of its longtime backwardness, providing jobs as also physical and social infrastructure, there is reason for the Suva villagers to feel otherwise. Replying to a Right to Information (RTI) query by Kaushikkumar Gohil, the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) said on January 21, 2014 that it had acquired 294 hectares (ha) land for the top Gujarat group Adani Power, which includes 78 lakh hectares of common village land (gochar), used by cattle for grazing, while the rest was acquired from the farmers by paying compensation.
While the Adanis bought 214 lakh ha of land from the GIDC at the rate of Rs 55 lakh per hectare, and rest of the land (80 hectareas) at the rate of Rs 70.5 lakh per hectare, villagers say that they were paid just at the rate of Rs 1.2 lakh per hectare per ha as against the calculation by the CEPT University, Ahmedabad, which had recommended a payment of Rs 45 lakh per hectare. Even the Development Plan proposal for the PCPIR (2011), prepared by the top consulting firm Mott MacDonald, had recommended Rs 17.5 lakh as the average rate of compensation to the farmers for land acquisition in PCPIR. Apparently, both CEPT University proposal and that of the Mott Macdonald were set aside.
“Large number of people has gone into appeal against the amount paid to them as compensation”, says a village leader Rajeshbhai Gohil, adding, “Those who protested against the poor compensation were paid even less.” The Adanis are the not the only ones for whom land acquisition was carried out – another company is SRF, which is engaged in the manufacture of chemical-based industrial intermediates, for which 93 ha of land was acquired. Worse, he points out, currently “none of the two companies have begun operation, and their land remains unused.” These companies have, in fact, constructed wall around their piece of land so that villagers do not “encroach” into their territory, he adds. Worse, around 400 cattle has no other place to go to graze.
In his RTI query, Kaushikkumar Gohil had also wanted to know several other facts, including the type of “help” the Adanis and the SRF had agreed to render to the villagers for their development, including in the fields of education, health and employment, and whether the companies are obliged to implement their proposed projects in a due timeframe. While on the query regarding what type of development these companies do, the GIDC refused to give any information, saying that it does not fall under its purview, it admitted that they companies had not taken “any permission” from it to construct the wall around the piece of land which they had bought. Villagers say, as of today, the land is lying idle, and only wild weed, gando baval, is spreading its tentacles all around.
This, significantly, is only part of the woes of Suva villagers, who had come to Gujarat’s premier environmental organization Paryavaran Mitra’s office in Ahmedabad to provide complete details of how their livelihood rights have been encroached upon by government agencies in favour of industry. Another major concern for them is about rampant mining of sand from Narmada riverbed, the contract of which has been given away without any necessary permission from the authorities concerned. The revenue office (mamlatdar) of Vagra taluka, in whose territory Suva located is located, in reply to an RTI query on October 17, 2011 said it had “not provided any such permission” of sand mining. In a similar reply, the geology department’s office said it had “not allowed” anyone to mine sand from the riverbed.
Sand mining in Narmada has led the villagers complaining of adverse impact on the environment in the region. Local dailies have reported that the sources of sweet drinking water have dried up as a result of sand mining. With thousands of tonnes of sand is being mined, the whole riverbed is now filled with saline water, which rushes from the sea. The area on two sides of the river, too, has gone saline. Wells have gone saline. The bore wells have gone dry. Crops, particularly cotton, have been adversely affected. “Mining is being done on around 400 hectares of land was being carried out, yet the Suva village panchayat has no information about who gave the permission”, Rajeshbhai Solanki says.
Suva, say these villagers, is not the only village which has been adversely affected as a result of indiscriminate land acquisition. “The nearby villages of Dahej, Ambhata, Rahiyad and Galanda have been equally affected as a result of this”, they point out, adding, “In all, around 5,000 ha of land has been taken away. An estimated 2,500 farmers’ livelihood options have dried up.” As if this was not enough, in the areas where the GIDC is not carrying out land acquisition, the Gujarat government has applied the town planning law in the PCPIR area, which makes it mandatory for the farmers to part with 40 per cent of their land for infrastructure development, with poor rate of compensation, on one hand, and a separate piece of land allotted for farming away from the original farm, on the other.

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