Cordoned areas of Reliance Industries inside the villages of Jamnagar. Picture Courtesy: Damayantee Dhar
Mehulbhai Khetia, a 32-year-old farmer from Kanachikari village in Jamnagar district is one of about 60 farmers who have held their land inside cordoned area of Reliance Industries that acquired about 10,000 acres from 17 villages of Jamnagar between the years 2006 and 2008.
“We received the first notice in 2006, stating that the land from Kanachikari and other surrounding villages were to be sold to Reliance Industries. We were offered Rs 16 to Rs 20 per square metre for jirayat (non-irrigated land) and bagayat (irrigated land) respectively. While the government was offering to us such meagre prices, government waste land adjacent to farmers’ land was sold to Reliance Industries at between Rs 121 per square metre and Rs 384 per square metre. Gauchar (grazing) land was sold at an added 30% of the cost of the wasteland. The price offered to us was just equal to our earning of a year,” Mehulbhai Khetia told NewsClick.
“There are some farmers who decided to give away their land, and accepted the meagre amount under pressure and threats from the collector and superintendent of police of Jamnagar. However, about 50 to 60 farmers of Kanachikari, Derachikari, Kanalus, Navagam and Padana villages refused to part with their lands primarily because we were offered peanuts. It has been a long struggle of more than 10 years. After initially protesting on the ground, we filed a legal case in the year 2013,” added Khetia.
Khetia’s family of seven is totally dependent on agriculture and was once doing well. However, in the year 2008, their lives went topsy turvy when they got a notice from Gujarat government notifying that the government has sold the land of the 17 villages to Reliance Industries including gauchar land, government wasteland and agrarian land of the farmers including 32 bigha of the land that belonged to his family.
“I did not want to sell my land. I did not agree to the amount offered to me in lieu of my land. Nobody asked me if I wanted to sell my land at all. Yet, one day, I received a notification from the Government of Gujarat saying that the Reliance Industries is the owner of my land,” shares Khetia.
“Despite the farmers being the seller and Reliance Industries the buyer, there was no communication between the company and the farmers. Gujarat government decided to sell farmers’ land. How can government sell my land without my consent?” he questions.
“We have three-crop land, as it is well irrigated by two dams. Almost every crop grows well here. Farmers used to earn well. But ever since Reliance Industries was set up here, we have been struggling to earn a livelihood. The company has used only about 2 or 3 acres of land and rest 7,000 acres of land is lying unused. However, the government doesn’t allow the farmers to cultivate the unused land. As a result, wild forestation has grown there, making it a breeding ground for animals, who, sometimes, damage the crop. This apart, the industry discharges polluted water into the canal from where the farmers used to draw the irrigation water,” shares Rahul Khetia, brother of Mehul Khetia.
The farmers from the five villages who fought to hold their land and continued to cultivate, stopped getting loans, crop insurance, agrarian electricity connection or irrigation water since 2008, as they were no longer the owners of the land.
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“Some of us have installed solar panels for electricity or have opted for generators dug deep well for water. The government’s rate for the water irrigation under Panna Irrigation Department is Rs 3,000 per hectare. But we are forced to pay Rs 5,000 per hectare. The added money is for the fine that we pay owing to the case filed against us for “stealing water” every time we buy water for irrigation. The officials have told us that since we don’t own any land officially, we are not eligible to receive irrigation water,” says Mehul Khetia.
“The satbara (document of ownership) was transferred to Reliance Industries, who informed the government that the concerned land was not being cultivated. When electricity connection and irrigation was discontinued, we approached the authorities who asked for the document of ownership that was no longer in our name. Since then, we haven’t got any loan or crop insurance despite bouts of crop failure neither can we avail the government rates of crops and sell at Agriculture Product Market Committee (APMC). We have been forced to sell our produce to private businessmen at lesser price,” says Rajabhai Khurania, another farmer from the Kanalus village, who still cultivates his land, which is located inside the perimeter of the Reliance Industries.
“This year, I have been unable to get a private buyer. About 300 sacks (each sack containing about 30 kilograms) of groundnut is still lying unsold. While APMC rate is about Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 per 20 kilograms, a private buyer will offer us not more than Rs 600 to Rs 700 per 20 kilograms,” adds Khurania.
“The survey report Reliance Industries has stated that all the land acquired is arid and dry. While the truth is that it is very fertile three crop land that was given to Reliance Industries” retorts Punjabhai Modhwadia, another farmer of Kanalus whose 80 bigha land has officially been given to Reliance Industries.
“This government is run by Reliance Industries. What hope can a farmer have from such a government?” questions Dilipbhai of Navagam village who is fighting for his 6 bighas of land.
“There are farmers who have committed suicide or fell sick and died after their land was taken. It requires money to fight a legal case which farmers don’t have,” he adds.
“We have taken loans from the local loan sharks to sustain and fight the legal case. Every time there is a hearing date in High Court of Gujarat in Ahmedabad, we borrow a car and share the fuel cost. At times, we have been in such financial crisis that we had taken a 2 am bus to Ahmedabad to reach in morning and again boarded the bus in the evening to avoid the lodging cost in Ahmedabad,” tells Mehul Khetia.
“Our lives have changed since 2008. They did not just take away our land, they destroyed every building structure that came in between, including our village temple. Later, after years, the company built a small temple and hung a board of the Reliance Industries on it,” he adds.
Despite upcoming Lok Sabha elections, nobody from the BJP or the Congress has come to meet the farmers of these villages yet.
“Our votes don’t matter. Whichever party we vote for will be in favour of Reliance, and not us,” says Khetia.
The Jamnagar constituency will go to polls on April 23.
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