Gujarat government has come up with a proposal to acquire more land belonging to tribal villagers of villages around Sadhu bet island, on which Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity stands in Narmada district of Gujarat. Reportedly, the land is said to be acquired in order to accommodate hotels, safari park, 33 state bhavans and other recreational extravaganza around the statue that is said to affect about 5,000 tribals from six villages.
A PIL was filed in the Gujarat High Court opposing the proposal of the state government by Gujarat-based activist Mahesh Pandya.
The PIL stated, “The government wants to displace tribals to build hotels, a tiger safari, 33 state bhavans etc. The land acquisition proceedings for the land in question has already lapsed as per section 24(2) of the new land acquisition law passed in 2013, as neither the possession was taken by the government nor any compensation was paid to the affected people.”
The division bench of acting Chief Justice AS Dave and Justice Biren Vaishnav has issued notices to state government, district revenue officer and Sardar Sraovar Nigam Limited (SSNL), while halting the process of land acquisition till further notice.
The proposal came in the backdrop of an ongoing protest by tribals of villages whose land has already been acquired earlier for the statue, a flower garden and the four-lane road leading to the statue. About 75,000 tribals from 72 villages around the project have been directly or indirectly affected by whole project.
Six villages – Navagam, Waghariya, Limdi, Kothi and Gora and Kevadiya, immediately around Sadhu Bet – have been badly affected due to the project. While Kevadiya has lost about 90% of its land to the project, Waghariya has lost all its land.
Out of the population of about 1,500 of Waghariya village, 15 displaced families were rehabilitated in mud huts in an area with no basic amenities like drinking water or electricity. Rest of the residents are being pushed to accept land far away from their homes.
Notably, the villagers of Kevadiya were displaced just a week before the inauguration of the Statue of Unity when road to Sadhu Bet was being widened from two lanes to four. Villagers protesting the eviction were reportedly met with indiscriminate lathi charge by the police and villagers including men and women were detained for 24 hours. The villagers -- who now reside on a rocky patch of land -- had returned to find that their homes had been demolished overnight.
Of the 72 villages affected due to the statue, rehabilitation has been left midway in 32 villages. In seven villages in Garudeshwar block, cash compensation has been given, but villages are yet to get a commitment from the authorities for land or jobs.
This apart, there are six villages whose land was acquired for the staff colonies of Sardar Sarovar employees, but they were never recognised as ‘affected by the project’.
“These villagers are fighting to be recognised as ‘affected by the project’,” said Praful Vasava, a tribal leader who has been in the forefront of the protests.
“The locals were never taken into confidence before building such a massive project. We have been losing land since the inception of Sardar Dam. How many times will the government change the landscape around this area and keep acquiring land from these villages?” questioned a tribal villager.