The Gujarat government’s ambitious and pet scheme for rapid industrialisation — Special Investment Regions (SIRs) — has so far put the government on the back foot. The state government had to withdraw its decision related to SIRs on three occasions in the last few years. The latest decision of the government came in April this year — just before the Lok Sabha elections — when it decided to denotify the Hazira SIR, following widespread opposition not only from the local farmers, but also from sitting BJP MLAs from the region.
It was in February, 2013, that the government had issued a notification declaring to include 35 villages of Olpad and Chorasi talukas of Surat district in the project named as Hazira SIR. As per the notification, the total land to be acquired under the project was 24,143 hectares. The government had planned to concentrate on chemical & petrochemical industry, port and port-based industry and heavy engineering industry at the SIR.
However, this led to huge discontent among the farmers of the region that put pressure on the government to rethink its decision on the project. The farmers’ agitations were also supported by the local BJP MLAs from Olpad and Chorasi, Mukesh Patel and Rajendra Patel, respectively. Eventually, the government has decided to cancel its notification of February 2013 and not to acquire private land for the project.
This decision was communicated to the Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat (CEO), Anita Karwal, by the Deputy Secretary of Industries & Mines Department, B S Mehta, in his letter dated April 4, 2014, a copy of which is available with The Indian Express. The letter was written to the CEO under the Model Code of Conduct due to the Lok Sabha elections, seeking permission to issue a notification canceling the earlier notification of Hazira SIR. Farmers’ leaders from the Hazira SIR region said that, so far, the new notification cancelling the earlier notification was not issued.
This was for the second time that the state government had reversed its decision on the Hazira SIR. In September 2010, the farmers’ leaders from the Hazira region had made representations before the state government opposing any government move to declare the region as an SIR and acquire land there. The farmers’ representations were based on an information that they got about the government’s move to issue a notification declaring Hazira SIR and the inclusion of 19 villages of Olpad and Chorasi talukas (19,597 hectares land) under the project.
Though the then Minister for Industries, Mines, Energy and Petrochemicals – Saurabh Patel – had given a written clarification (a copy of which is available with The Indian Express) to the farmers who had made the representation against the government’s move to set up Hazira SIR in their region. In the said letter, Patel stated that the government had only got a survey done in the region to discover alternatives like SIR, with reference to the rapid growth of industrialisation in the region. In the letter, Patel had categorically stated that the Industries Department was not going to acquire any land for the SIR and that it was decided by the government not to set up an SIR at Hazira.
Besides Hazira, the state government, under pressure from agitating farmers, had also cancelled its notification of Mandal-Becharaji SIR (MB-SIR) in August 2013. Following massive public agitations against the MB-SIR project, the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting with farmers and declared that the notification would be cancelled. Out of the 44 villages from the Mandal-Becharaji region of north Gujarat, 36 villages have now been excluded from the project.
Dholera SIR, the other important SIR project of the Gujarat government, is also witnessing huge agitation by farmers from the region. Farmers’ leaders associated with the agitation claim that it could be possible that the present Dholera SIR project would be scrapped due to opposition by the local farmers. Official spokesperson of the Gujarat government and Cabinet Minister, Saurabh Patel, could not be contacted for his comment, despite repeated attempts.