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Land Lost to GPCL, Bhavnagar Farmers Turn to Daily Wage Labour

In early 2018, GPCL took possession of land from Badi, Thordi and Ranpar villages affecting about 250 farmers. Despite an ongoing case and protests, about 3,901 bigha land was taken over by the company amid heavy police presence.
Farmers of Ghogha taluka who lost their land completely or partially

Farmers of Ghogha taluka who lost their land completely or partially

For Chandubhai Shanji Solanki it was a normal working day. Little did he know that his life would change forever soon. In early 2018, in the nondescript village of Ranpar in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, he had woken up early as usual to head to his farmland in nearby Badi village. It was harvesting season and Chandubhai had harvested only half his crop. He wanted to tackle the remaining standing crop that day. On reaching his fields, he was surprised to see policemen guarding it and other adjacent fields. They prohibited him from stepping on to his ancestral land. They said that his land was now the property of Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL). That was the last day Chandubhai worked as a farmer.

Chandubhai Solanki who lost all his land in 2018 and works as daily wage earner

Chandubhai Solanki who lost all his land in 2018 and works as daily wage earner

“I requested the police to let me just finish harvesting the remaining crop. I tried telling them that my money and months of hard work by my family had been invested in the produce, but they did not budge. I lost my land and half the money I had invested in growing crops that season,” Chandubhai told Newsclick recalling the events of that day about three years ago.

Since that fateful day, Chandubhai and five other family members have been reduced to working as manual labourers in nearby Bhavnagar city.

“My family of 12 members depended on earnings from the 42 bighas of land that we had. I first went to the city to find work after we lost our land. I did whatever odd jobs I could get – digging manholes and working at construction sites. After toiling the entire day, I could make only Rs 200-250, which was not enough to run the family. So, other members of the family also joined me in the city,” he said.

Chandubhai was not alone in this - GPCL took possession of 3,901 bigha land from the villages of Badi, Surkha, Thordi and Ranpar, affecting about 250 farmers. Heavy police presence ensured that there was no resistance. The whole swathe of land was soon dug up and open-cast mining of lignite begun.

The tragic story began many years ago when 3,377 acres of land was acquired by the Gujarat government in 12 villages of Ghogha taluka in Bhavnagar in 1993 and 1994. They announced that a thermal power plant will be built on the site. This particular site was chosen because there were lignite (a kind of low quality coal) deposits underneath the crops in the fields. The government wanted to have an open cast mine right there, so that lignite could then be straightaway used in the thermal power plant. The plan also called for areas demarcated for dumping the ash that would be generated in the power plant. A residential colony was also proposed.

However, the process of taking possession of the land began only in December 2017 due to various reasons.

Entry to the mining site

Entry to the mining site

In February 2018, the farmers appealed against the land acquisition in the High Court of Gujarat.

In April 2018, the police lathi-charged and lobbed tear gas shells at farmers who were sitting in protest at Badi village in Ghogha taluka, leaving many of them injured.

As farmers from the region began protesting in massive numbers, the police were deployed in Badi village where they camped for months. The police marched through the village in huge numbers and Section 144 was imposed in the area, barring assembly of more than four people.

Many farmers who lost all their land were forced to work as daily-wage earners in Bhavnagar city.

“I had six bighas of land in Surkha village and 40 bighas in Badi. I lost it all in 2018. I have been working as a daily-wage earner in the city. My family of 15 is barely able to get by on my income,” said 44-year-old Himmatbhai Kantaria.

Himmatbhai Kataria, lost all his land and works as daily wage earner

Himmatbhai Kataria, lost all his land and works as daily wage earner

It was met with immediate resistance from the farmers. A massive protest was staged by the affected farmers in December 2017 following which the Bhavnagar police filed two FIRs against 10 of them at Ghogha and Vartej police stations. The police accused them of inciting villagers for their benefit and becoming an obstacle in police work. Of the 10 farmers, three were named in both the FIRs.

In February 2018, the farmers appealed against the land acquisition in the High Court of Gujarat. But, in April that year, the police lathi-charged and lobbed tear gas shells at farmers who were sitting in protest at Badi village, leaving many of them injured. As farmers from the region began protesting in massive numbers, police were deployed in Badi where they camped for months. The police marched through the village in huge numbers and Section 144 was imposed in the area, barring assembly of more than four people.

With this final crackdown, the land finally slipped out of the hands of Chandubhai and other farmers, finally and forever. Following this, many farmers who lost all their land were forced to work as daily-wage earners in Bhavnagar city. Their tales are similar, though their agony is personal and merciless.

“I had six bighas of land in Surkha village and 40 bighas in Badi. I lost it all in 2018. I have been working as a daily-wage earner in the city. My family of 15 is barely able to get by on my income,” said 44-year-old Himmatbhai Kantaria.

Bhavnagar

Ramesh bhai pointing at the patch of his land that elevated suddenly

“I lost 27 bighas and the remaining 30 bigha land is barely 500 metres from the mining site. I am apprehensive of sowing crops there as the company could take my land away any day. The last time they (GPCL) took possession of the land, they did not allow the farmers to harvest their crops. Everyone suffered huge financial losses,” said Narendrasinh Gohil, a farmer from Badi village.

“The police cordoned off our land and did not let us enter despite our request to let us finish harvesting. I lost about 100 mann of crop amounting to almost Rs 50,000,” he added.

However, losing land is not the only downside. The farmers have also been facing the adverse effect of open-cast mining going on since the past three years.

In December 2019, farmers were shocked when they saw that a patch of about 250 metres of farmland was elevated by at least 100 metres. A similar incident happened in November 2020, when another patch of land, about 800 metres long and 300 metres wide which included both gauchar (grazing) and agrarian land, became elevated by at least 50 feet.

“I had 18 bighas of land in Hoydar village, of which about seven or eight bighas were elevated. This happened all of a sudden. One morning, a few farmers, who were passing by my land, noticed it and then we informed the GPCL authorities and the Collector of Bhavnagar. While the Collector visited the spot and had a fence erected around the elevated land, the GPCL authorities have not taken any measure or given a reason why (the elevation happened) yet,” Rameshbhai told Newsclick.

“A fence now runs through my land, dividing the elevated portion. I lost a part of my land but nobody has offered me any compensation yet,” added Rameshbhai.

Pravinsinh Gohil who lost 15 bigha, now rents land to cultivate

Pravinsinh Gohil who lost 15 bigha, now rents land to cultivate

“The water in the region has also been slowly turning saline since mining began in the area. There is dust in the air all the time. Last season, we did not have a good crop. Even mangoes, which used to grow well here, do not thrive any longer,” said Pravinsinh Gohil, who lost 15 bighas of land in 2018.

Staring at a bleak future, Gohil said: “Farming is all I know, so I rented land after 2018 to cultivate it.”

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