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Gujarat's smart city project in Dholera SIR faces fresh threat: From Kolis, numercially strong OBC community

Kunvarji Bavalia
By Our Representative
In a development of far-reaching political significance, the powerful association representing the numerically strong Other Backward Class (OBC) community of Gujarat, Kolis, has announced its backing to the farmers' demand to scrap the Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), situated in the south of Ahmedabad, along the Gulf of Khambhat.
Declared SIR by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his chief ministership of Gujarat on a 920 sq km of land, Dholera SIR is one of the major regions where the state government has planned a Greenfield smart city with all the modern amenities.
A mini-Japan township proposal for the Japanese businessmen coming to India to set up the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) is also pending for the Dholera SIR region, one reason why the state government is so keen to go ahead with the smart city project. Also pending is a proposal to set up a world class international airport bordering Dholera SIR.
Fresh opposition to Dholera SIR has come after at least three SIRs in Gujarat – at Olpad, Hazira and Mandal-Bhechraji – were either scrapped or scaled down following farmers' agitations. So far, the agitation against Dholera SIR, led by Gujarat Khedut Samaj, had failed to pick up, as it had failed to gather numerically strong Kolis.
Ever since Dholera was declared to be developed as SIR about a decade ago, the landed farmers, mainly consisting of upper caste Rajputs and Patels, began taking strong exception to the state government's declared plan to take away about 50 per cent of of land under the pretext of setting up urban infrastructure in Dholera SIR.
More recently, the Gujarat government move to declared the land, currently in physical possession of small and marginal farmers, mainly Kolis, as belonging to state government, caused a major flutter in the OBC community, which forms nearly 80 per cent of the population of the region.
Talking with newspersons in Ahmedabad, Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj's Gujarat president Kunvarji Bawalia, a former Congress MP, declared his organization's support to the big farmers' demand to scrap SIR and not meddle with the big and small farmers' land rights.
“We have decided to organize a demonstration on April 24 on the gate of Dholera SIR in favour of our demand, on the highway between Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. The demonstration has been necessitated because the state government has, by a simple declaration, taken away land allocated to the Kolis during the land reforms day”, he said.
“What has made things particularly queer”, Bawalia said, “is that, while thousands of hectares of land in Dholera SIR area was handed over to about 2,500 Koli families as part of the land reforms during the 1960s, the successive state governments never cared to issue title certificates to the farmers tilling the land.”
“Taking advantage of this officla lapse”, Bawalia said, “the state government has declared about 28,000 hectares, cultivated by mainly Koli small and marginal farmers, as government land; the land has been transferred to the Dholera SIR authority and put up for sale.”
Pointing out that the Kolis face the predicament of becoming landless, Bawalia said, “We plan to gather about 1 lakh Kolis and other communities, including Patels and Kshatriyas, to oppose the SIR. Recently, Satyarayan Pawar, the all-India president of the Akhil Bharatiya Khedut Samaj has visited the SIR and met with local community leaders and declared support.”
Answering newspersons, Bawalia – who was accompanied by regional Koli chief Karsanbhai Chauhan, former MLA Ranchhodbhai Mer, and five other community leaders – said, “We are not opposed to industrialization of the region. However, we oppose land acquisition in the name of SIR by taking away farmers' land without consulting village panchayats. If industrialists want, they can directly negotiate with farmers.”

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