Police rushed to Kevadiya Colony on Monday after angry tribals locked the office of executive engineer of Sardar Sarovar Punarvasvat Agency to protest against lack of jobs for local villagers at the Statue of Unity site. They also complained of lack of facilities for those displaced by the project.
“We immediately reached the sport after getting information that tribals had locked the executive engineer. The situation was brought under control quickly after we dispersed the crowd,” said Ajay Damor, Inspector at Kevadiya Colony. No one was detained and now FIR has been lodged.
“Most of the protesters were displaced tribal villagers who were rehabilitated during the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Statue of Unity. They raised slogans against lack of jobs and facilities for them like water, electricity etc,” Damor added.
Why tribals oppose land acquisition
The tribal belt around the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Narmada district has been in a ferment since the inauguration of Statue of Unity on October 31 — stemming from the central issue of loss of land, compensation, jobs and access to water from Narmada Canal. The government’s attempt to pacify villagers by hiring them as guides at statue site has not proved productive. Despite several measures announced by the government, the tribal agitations is showing no sign of waning. The tribals’ opposition to land acquisition stems from their past experience when people from 19 villages were displaced by the Narmada dam project. According to the Centre, 4,763 project affected families in Gujarat were rehabilitated, while the construction of the dam had left over 32,000 families affected in the three states of Gujarat, MP and Maharashtra. However, large number of tribals believe that rehabilitation was done in a shoddy manner.
Notably, the incident took place two days ahead of a planned protest march by tribal outfits against acquisition of land by the government. On Wednesday, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Statue of Unity to preside over the two-day annual DGP conference, tribals are set to march from Kevadiya Colony — the site of the Statue of Unity and Sardar Sarovar Dam — to the Collector’s office in Rajpipla.
Over 1,000 people, under the banner, ‘Zameen Bachao, Adivasi Bachao andolan’ (Save Land, Save Tribals Movement), are expected to take part in the march. The main demand of the movement is to stop any further land acquisition in view of new projects like government buildings, state guest houses and railway station being planned to be built in and around the Statue of Unity.
“Our demands still remain intact. Our fight is against the rampant development that has been taking place in this area at the cost of the nature. For us, our land is most important, that is our source of income. And our lands are being acquired for projects that have no direct benefit for us. After repeatedly protesting and seeking jobs a few people were hired, but on temporary basis, either as cleaners or to sell bottles. But the contract ends within six months. So, what after that,” asked tribal leader Praful Vasava, who lives in Rajpipla. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Vasava had contested from Chhota Udepur seat on a JD(U) ticket and lost. At present, he is not associated with any political party, and heads a social outfit called the ‘Indigenous Army of India’.
Apart from villagers around the site, including Navagaam, Waghadia and Mukhudi, people from across Narmada district are expected to join the march. The villagers have been demanding an undertaking from the government promising not to acquire any more land from the tribal belt for developmental projects. They have also been demanding that local tribals should be recruited at the Statue of Unity site and they should be trained in skill development. They had been also demanding that water from the Narmada Dam for irrigation should be first provided to local farmers.
Discounting the recent sops offered by the state government for the tribals, including conversion of 196 forest villages to revenue villages, as “election gimmick”, Vasava said, “Promises are made every time just ahead of the elections. After elections we will still be on the suffering end. We want them to stop exploiting our land any further,” he added.