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Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, defence project in North India's Mewat: Forest dwellers feel totally "sidelined"

Jats of Mewat
By Ashok Shrimali*
People of the Mewat region of North India are feeling the pinch of the proposed Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), which includes a rail corridor stretching between Alwar in Rajasthan and Panipat and Meerut via Delhi in Uttar Pradesh.
With plans simultaneously underway to develop the whole region -- a protected forest area -- as a tourism spot, on one hand, and a major military industry industrial complex, on the other, the region has already created a flutter among the area's forest dwellers.
A historical region of Haryana and Rajasthan states, the loose boundaries of Mewat generally include Mewat District of Haryana and parts of Alwar, Bharatpur, and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan.The region roughly corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Matsya, foun.ded in the 5th century BCE.Though the district is in the National Capital Region (NCR) and just 20 km from Delhi airport, it has largely remained undeveloped.
A senior activist Guman Singh of the Himalay Niti Abhiyan, who recently interacted with the forest dwellers, however, says, "Several gram panchayats, which are part of the region, have protested against the refusal to consult them and hold gram sabha before laying down any of the proposed projects."
What is worse, he says in a report he has sent to Counterview following his visit, is that, "the defence production project is being implemented on a 850 hectares (ha) land by the the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) without people being aware of its detailed project report (DPR) or the environment impact assessment (EIA)."
In all, according to him, "40-odd villages on a 12-km hilly stretch of Aravalli mountain range, where more than 65,000 people live, will be affected." The gram panchayats to be affected include "Jajor, Kithur, Kholbas, Pahada, Mehrampur, Ghasoli and others", he says.
Singh claims, "There is no provision in law which empowers DRDO not to consult local people before coming up with a project, especially in a forest area. The decision to transfer forest land, at the very first site, appears to be illegal."
The locals, says Singh, told him that a "missiles project has been approved for the 850 ha set aside for the DRDO, which is proposed to cost around Rs 16,000 crore. Yet, there has not been any environmental nod, nor have been people told about the project, not even how they would be rehabilitated. It would seem as if the Forest Rights Act does not exist for region, or that the Supreme Court judgements need not be implemented for the project."
Meanwhile, forest dwellers of the region have begun to organize themselves to start a movement against the government decision to "develop" the region through various projects. There have been interaction with the authorities following a meeting on August 15 with the participation of 30-odd panchayat chiefs and 500 local people's representatives.
Singh says, "I learnt at one of the meetings that the panchayats have in their possession all the necessary papers which suggest that the area is a protected forest, one reason the 850 ha cannot be transferred to the DRDO, yet the authorities are refusing to listen."
According to Singh, the area consists of a big portion of cattle grazing land, where as many as 4,000 cows graze. "Animal husbandry is the people's main occupation. There are large number of ponds in the area, which help recharge water in the nearby regions. All this is now under threat", he adds.
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*Gujarat based senior activist

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