Some tribals from villages around the Statue of Unity (SoU) site in Narmada district, on Tuesday, said that they are being deprived of the benefits of projects and that they do not want to give their lands for tourism purposes in the region. They addressed a press conference in Ahmedabad in the presence of former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta and former minister Pravinsinh Jadeja, along with some social activists.
Dakshaben Kanubhai from Limdi village, which is near the SoU site, said, “They have acquired our land and are now harassing us on various grounds. In the name of cleanliness, they have impounded my calf for the past three days and are demanding Rs 300.” She said that somebody has been given a lease to run a food parlour near SoU on her family land, whereas the authorities have turned another land parcel of her family into a parking area for the upcoming October 31 event, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the site.
Another tribal, Govind Tadvi, Sarpanch of Vagadia village, said that the government is acquiring their land in the name of tourism without making tribals the beneficiaries of the projects. Govind said that by acquiring their land, the government wants to evict them. “If the government is planning to turn the place into heaven, why don’t they let tribals be a part of that heaven?” he asked.
Shakuntala Tadvi from Kevadia alleged that authorities are forcefully taking their land, adding that she has two sons and both are unemployed. “Jobs are being given to outsiders from Ahmedabad, Vadodara and other areas (but not to local tribals),” she said.
Notably, acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by an Ahmedabad-based activist, the HC had ordered to maintain status quo on land acquisition in six villages around SoU. The land of these villages was claimed to be acquired by Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) in the 1960’s, but its possession remained with the tribals. The petitioner has demanded that since the possession of the land remained with the tribals for these many years, the government cannot take it back now.
The quantum of such land, the tribals said, is 1700 acre of which 1100 acre has been in possession of the SSNNL or the state government.
Social activist Lakhan Musafir said that the tribals are only being given petty jobs and the government should give the food court at the SoU site to tribals as they can run it. He also alleged that in the name of cleanliness, domestic animals are being impounded by the authorities.
Punabhai Tadvi, another tribal from the region, alleged that to preempt any protest by them during PM Modi’s visits to the place, authorities detain locals. “They put us under house arrest whenever there is a programme of the PM. People from outside are being brought in buses, but the locals are put under house arrest till the PM does not leave the place.”
Addressing the press conference, Suresh Mehta said that without taking local tribals into confidence and any transparency, three government authorities — Tourism Department, SSNNL and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriyal Ekta Trust (SVPRET) — are implementing multiple projects. The former CM alleged that the SoU project was implemented while diverting the funds of SSNNL at the cost of the canal network’s irrigation efficiency. He added that the number of affected villages in the region would be around 72, as the government will bring in a number of projects in the name of converting the area into a tourism centre.
Meanwhile, Gujarat BJP condemned the statements of former CM Suresh Mehta and called him a “person with anti-Gujarat mentality”. Spokesperson of Gujarat BJP Bharat Pandya said, “This is a group of people opposed to the Narmada Dam project. The Statue of Unity is pride of Gujarat and every day 8,500 tourists are visiting it… it generates employment. Opposing such a project is not in the interest of Gujarat.”