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Gujarat farmers gear up for fresh agitation: Jungadh villagers say "no" to be placed under urban authority

Sagar Rabari addressing farmers
By Our Representative
In an important development which may become yet another headache to the already worried Gujarat government, the villagers of one of the premier Gujarat towns of the Saurashtra region, Junagadh, have threatened to launch a major agitation against the decision to include 42 villages under the Junagadh Urban Development Authority (JUDA).
Earlier, villages in Surat district rejected their inclusion in Surat Urban Development Authority (SUDA), while villages around Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district in North Gujarat expressed their opposition to their inclusion in the Himmatnagar Urban Development Authority (HUDA).
News coming in from Junagadh says, the villagers have formed Khedut Hit Rakshak Samiti and held a meeting with the Khedut Samaj Gujarat (KSG) and Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), where around 1,200 villagers were apprised of how inclusion of the 42 villages would mean land acquisition from the backdoor.
Once an area is declared as forming under an urban development authority, the state government acquires wide powers under provisions of the Town Planning Act, 1976, under which it can take away 40 per cent of the land from the farmers in the name of urban infrastructure development, even as reallocating rest of the land to the farmers elsewhere.
A JAAG statement has said, the life of all villagers, agriculturalists and pastoralists would be “affected”, adding, those who apprised the villagers of the adverse impact included activists associated with the two farmers’ bodies – Sagar Rabari, Rajnibhai Dave and Persis Ginwalla.
The meeting, which took place in Junagadh city, “resolved to publicly and collectively raise their objection to their inclusion in JUDA”, JAAG said.
“The villagers resolved to meet again on October 7 and march in a rally to the district collector’s office in Junagadh city to hand over memoranda from all 42 villages opposing and rejecting their inclusion in JUDA and reiterating their desire to remain a village panchayat”, the statement said.
Says JAAG, “Their main contention is: they want to continue with their occupation as agriculturalists, and inclusion in Urban Development Authority will automatically mean a deduction of nearly 40 per cent of their land, making agriculture next to impossible and leaving them with the only option of selling their land. At the very least this means that ‘one of the fastest urbanising states in India’ is doing so against the wishes of its people.”
The opposition to inclusion into urban bodies has come despite continued “celebration” among official circles that Gujarat’s rate of urbanisation in Gujarat, as per the Census 2011 is 43%, is up from 37% in 2001, making it one of the fastest growing urbanised states in India. This, officials say, is supposed to be a “positive” indicator – suggesting growth, development and growing prosperity.
Increasing disquiet among villages around several cities comes close on the heels of the state government showing signs of fear of losing popularity. It has already postponed local body elections following the pro-reservation Patidar agitation launched across Gujarat in August-end 2015. To this aim, it promulgated a controversial ordinance giving fresh powers to the government to indefinitely postpone citing “law and order situation”.
The State Election Commission (SEC), which is supposed to conduct local body polls, within hours issued the order deferring elections to six municipal corporations, 56 municipalities, 230 taluka panchayats and 31 district panchayats, which were expected to take place in October-November.
"Keeping in mind the necessity to hold elections in free, fair and peaceful environment, the commission has evaluated the present law and order situation across the state. After such evaluation, we have decided not to hold elections at present," the SEC, operating under the chairmanship for former chief secretary Varesh Sinha, said.
Without giving fresh dates for local polls, the SEC further said, "The commission will take a decision to hold elections in next three months after re-examining the situation in the state."

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