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Gujarat Polls: Behind Ambitious Bharat Mala Project Lie Farmers’ Grievances

Hrishi Raj Anand |
Over 50 farmers in the villages of the Tharad region in Gujarat have been facing the brunt of the humongous Bharat Mala project, which is meant to make the commute easier for others.
Gujarat Assembly Polls

Nanji Chaudhary has filed at least 15 complaints at the collector's office in Tharad, but has received no support from the administration.

Tharad, Gujarat: “We had no idea that our land was being surveyed. We did see drones running over our fields, but had no clue until one day a JCB arrived,” says Nanji Chaudhary, a farmer from Vanthadau, the last village of Gujarat near the Rajasthan border.

Farmers allege that without any prior notice, on October 10, 2021, a JCB arrived and as much as they tried to stop the giant vehicle, it allegedly ran over their crops. Every farmer lost around Rs 30,000 on the crops that they had sown. Although nobody denies getting compensation from the government, their story is not very simple.

The ambitious Bharat Mala project aims to optimise the efficiency of road traffic movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps. The project covering 34,800 km of road lengths is to be completed in a phased manner. For the road running via Tharad, several issues came up but were not catered to, as per what the farmers narrate.

As of now, in the Vanthadau village area, one can see a visible cut between the construction of the road on two sides. Within the cut lie fields of Nanji Chaudhary, a young farmer, who has not given in to the compensation being offered. Nanji’s farms have pomegranates. He has approximately 750 trees of pomegranates. He has invested in some of them for as long as five years and they have just started to bear fruits he says.

Gujarat Assembly Polls

Hundreds of villagers are set to lose an entryway to their houses and access to other parts of the village

All the hard work that Nanji has put into his land is now being measured in an amount that he feels is much less. “I am being offered Rs 1,200 for each plant. Considering the investment and the fruits that the trees would yield, the income would come up to somewhat Rs 9,000. One plant gives fruits for at least 15 years,” he told NewsClick.

Gujarat Assembly Polls

From the rear end of one side of the project, the visible range of the road on the other, and in the middle lies Nanji's farm

When the JCB reached where Nanji’s farms are, hundreds of locals gathered and stopped it from ruining the crop. Despite the repeated complaints by the villagers, the only people who have showed up at the site have been the contractors and their men.

Nanji’s house is right around the corner from the farms. What once used to be a complete village now has a partition with a road that would soon be an eye-catching investment by the ruling regime for visitors and passers-by. On both sides of the road, down where the remaining farms lie, there are six feet tall walls preventing the villagers from even crossing to their own households. They are not allowed to create a partition between their houses which could serve as a gate.

Gujarat Assembly Polls

The boundary wall extends as long as the length of the village blocking the entry of farmers' houses and farms on the other side.

For the ones whose lands have already been acquired, the problems vary to a huge extent. The Bharat Mala Project has left a considerable piece of their land on the other side of the ambitious project unused. “In order to reach the other side of the farm – where earlier we just had to use the path between – now we will have to travel two kilometres, take a complete round and then reach the other part of our land,” said Karman Chaudhary, whose two acres of land have been acquired by the government for the project. Although Chaudhary is not dissatisfied with the deal he got for the land, he feels he has lost much more than what he was given.

Most of the farmers in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country have an emotional attachment to their land. For Chaudhary, these two acres of land were the ones that were bought by his great-grandfather; it was his ancestral land. “No amount of money can suffice in exchange for this land. I would never have sold it. What happened was a forceful acquisition,” he claimed. Chaudhary now has only three acres of land left, an acre of which falls on the other side of the road making it unfeasible for him to have access or use the land to its potential.

Apart from the alleged forceful acquisition by the government, the bigger challenge here is the absence of a passageway to reach the other side. There have been several complaints filed by the farmers, but all in vain. Earlier, they say, they were promised at least one passage in the middle. But when the project was kickstarted, farmers were allegedly threatened when asked about the promised passage.

Nanji, at this point, is losing hope. In the past year, he has submitted at least 15 complaints at both the collector’s office and at Palanpur. These applications pertain to several issues ranging from problems with the contractors, the compensation given, and how the farmers there have not received remuneration for the crops they lost. None of the complaints has been heeded despite the several protests they have held.

However, these issues seemingly have no bearing on the election outcomes. The farmers, on the one hand, hold the ruling regime responsible for the problems they face; on the other hand, are sure of the BJP candidate Shankar Chaudhary’s victory. They believe that he would stick to his promise of helping them once he is in power. The reason for this faith, many said, was the fact that Chaudhary belonged to their community – as most of the farmers in the village are Choudhary.

They claim that the sitting MLA, Gulab Singh of the Indian National Congress (INC), was although a very nice man when it came to hearing their pleas, but had not helped them in any way when it came to the project. They also believe that if someone from the ruling party wins in their constituency, the chances of them being heard will be higher.

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