A day after the death of an 85-year-old man, who was part of the symbolic relay hunger strike of Narmada project-affected persons, the adivasi group Monday refused to perform the final rites, demanding that the state government must immediately meet their demands.
Dulji Vasava of Aamroli Vasahat village died early on Sunday in Vadodara’s SSG hospital. While district officials claimed that Vasava had been unwell for a few days and was forcibly shifted to a hospital by the authorities, his death sparked off a political row. On Monday, the Narmada-affected persons carried Vasava’s body to the protest spot at Kevadia Colony and pledged that they will not cremate him until the state government meets their entire list of 27 demands.
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Narmada Project Affected Persons’ leader Jhiku Tadvi told The Indian Express that the people were beginning to lose patience as they have been on hunger strike since July 15 this year. Tadvi said, “We have been on hunger strike for about five months. Since it is a peaceful relay hunger strike, the government has turned a blind eye to our conditions as they feel we will eventually get tired and give up. The fact is that Vasava’s death will now result in a more aggressive agitation. We will not perform the final rites until the government decides to agree to our demands.”
The main contention of the adivasis affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project is related to the rehabilitation policy of the Gujarat government offering 5 acres land to each displaced family, including the major sons (who attained 18 years of age by January 1, 1987) of the landholder. The adivasis are demanding that the cut-off date for identifying major sons for land allotment should be January 1, 1994 instead of the Gujarat government notification identifying major sons until January 1, 1987. Tadvi said, “Our demand is based on the reality that several of our young men, who belong to our second generation and were displaced in the 1980s and 1990s, are landless and in dire straits because of the displacement. They should have the right to a full and fair rehabilitation. It is only wise that the government extends the cut-off date for land allotments to January 1, 1994.” The group is also demanding government jobs for one family member of each affected family.
Joint Commissioner (Planning and Rehabilitation), Sardar Sarovar Punarvasahat Agency (SSPA) K D Chandnani, told this newspaper that the department had already submitted the demands to the government. “We have submitted their entire list of demands to the government. The civic demands have already been fulfilled. Regarding the government job and an increase in the notified cut-off date for major sons from January 1, 1987 to January 1994, the matter rests with the government.”
According to an official of the state government, provisions in the original rehabilitation policy do not allow a revision in the cut-off dates. “Moreover, it will set a precedent for all other land acquisition cases. In this very case, many others will come forth and demand a further extension from 1994 to 2004. It will also affect the rehabilitation projects of the other affected states like Madhya Pradesh as similar agitations will gain ground there. We are not keen on giving into this demand,” the official said.