As Prime Minister Narendra Modi commemorated the legacy of Sardar Patel on his 144th birth anniversary from the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, 8 tribal leaders from the state were arrested. The villagers had been protesting against the prime minister's visit. Tribal leaders including Praful Vasava and Krishna Kant were detained last night in a bid to maintain "peace" in the area.
Over 72 villages observed a complete shutdown to register their protest against the forceful land acquisition and the loss of livelihood that they had to bear for the Statue of Unity to stand tall. At its one-year anniversary ceremony, Prime Minister Modi spoke of “unity” with the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as the state now has officially completed the bifurcation process. He said, “The wall has been broken down, and Sardar Patel’s dream has come true.”
However, thousands of tribals asserted—through the shutdown—that the reality remains that their dreams and their livelihoods have been snatched away by the Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Speaking to NewsClick, Arun Mehta of the Center of Indian Trade Unions said, “Tribal leadership was arrested a day prior to the visit of the prime minister as a preventive measure to avoid any conflict, the security was beefed up and we could not go there.”
The villagers were gearing up for mass protests from a week ago, as 72 villages of Narmada district and about 75,000 tribals are affected by the Statue of Unity among other projects.
The state high court had previously ordered status quo in the matter. The 72 villages around Garudeshwar taluka near the Sardar Sarovar Dam are covered by Schedule-V and therefore are subject to PESA (Panchyats Extension to Scheduled Area) Act, where the government cannot do anything without the consent of the gram sabhas (village-level administrative unit). Yet, tribal farmers, animals, life and livelihood have been dislocated, said the press statement released during the conference by the tribal leadership which was held earlier, on October 21.
With tribals comprising about 85% of the population of the district, it is by far one of the poorest districts of Gujarat. Since its formation, the district has had no government hospital with modern amenities and intensive care unit facility. In all, 72 villages of Narmada district and about 75,000 tribals are affected by the Statue of Unity project, Shreshtha Bharat Bhawan, Valley of Flowers and the four-lane road leading uphill to Sadhu Bet—the spot where the project is located in Kevadiya.
Displaced villagers from 19 villages—who were originally recognised as ‘project-affected’ and promised rehabilitation aid of Rs 5 lakh or a new plot of land—are still awaiting compensation. Six villages—Navagam, Kevadiya, Gora, Kothi, Limdi and Waghariya—have not been formally declared as project-affected. However, about 90% of the land of Kevadiya village has been grabbed for widening of the road. In Gora, Kothi and Limdi, about 25% of the land has been unofficially grabbed after allegedly offering verbal promises of rehabilitation. This apart, 28 villages on the bank of the main canal of the Narmada river have not been allowed to use water for their parched land, which most of the tribal farmers are struggling to cultivate in a rain-scarce year.
Also read: Statue of Unity: Tribals From 72 Villages Protests Ahead of Modi’s Visit