Narendra Modi is all set to visit Gujarat for the one-year anniversary of the Statue of Unity on October 31. Ahead of his visit, tribals are upping their ante against the government to seek attention to the land grab issue and the loss of livelihood that has taken place in the state because of the statue.
Also read: Tribal Protests, Black Balloons Cloud Modi’s Unveiling of ‘Statue of Unity’
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.
Highlighting these issues, the tribals, along with former Gujarat Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, said at a press conference that the BJP government in the state has also backtracked on its promise to provide jobs or alternate land to project-affected people. Speaking to NewsClick, Arun Mehta of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said, “The tribals have been raising these concerns for a long time now. Their livelihoods have been completely overlooked by the state, even the new hotels that the government is planning are harming the business of the local traders.”
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.
“The government had promised them compensation and alternative employment. They were promised training to be tourist guides, for housekeeping, security and attendants. It was promised that for every tribal losing land, seven would get a job. However, that has not happened,” the statement said. Previously, the tribals had protested by not cooking for days ahead of the inauguration of the project.
NewsClick had also reported on how the 182-metre-tall Statue of Unity is standing tall on the misused social funds from the cash-strapped PSUs. A CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) report tabled in the Parliament on August 7, 2018 had brought out serious irregularities in the use of social responsibility funds by the PSUs under the administrative control of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MPNG). According to the report, five PSUs—Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Indian Oil Corporation Limited and Oil India Limited—had contributed Rs 146.83 crore together (ONGC: Rs 50 crore, IOCL: Rs 21.83 crore, BPCL, HPCL, OIL: Rs 25 crore each) towards the construction of the Statue of Unity. The funding came from their expenditure earmarked for corporate social responsibility (CSR). In addition, 14 PSUs from Gujarat also seem to have spent Rs 104.88 crore under CSR for the same project.
Also read: The Tall Price That Gujarat's Tribals Are Paying for the 'Tallest' Statue