Led by former MLA Kanu Kalsariya and Congress MLA from Talaja, Kanu Baraiya, around 1,000 farmers of 11 villages of Talaja and Mahuva talukas of Bhavnagar district forced UltraTech Cement Limited to suspend mining of limestone from their villages on Wednesday. This is for the eighth time that villagers have forced the company to stop mining in the last six months even as the farmers warned that they will boycott political leaders if the government did not make its stand clear in a week.
“All the residents of 11 project-affected villages had objected to limestone mining in their villages, yet the government gave clearance to the company for mining. Nobody is listening to us even as the limestone mining poses a threat to agriculture and by extension to our livelihood. Therefore, we demand that the state government make its stand clear — whether it is on the side of the company or on the side of people — by the beginning of 2019 or we shall do neta-bandhi (prohibiting entry of political leaders) in our area,” said Bharat Bhil, a local resident who is coordinating the protests.
The 11 villages have a cumulative population of around 70,000 to 80,000, and they are likely to be affected by the limestone mining as 98 per cent of land acquired by the company is private agricultural land, Bhil said.
The company had started mining limestone from the site in July this year but it has not been able to mine much mineral due to protests.
Kalsariya, the former BJP MLA who had successfully led a people’s agitation against a cement plant in Mahuva around 10 years ago, said that the farmers and villagers were facing injustice. “Residents of all the project-affected villages had protested against the mining project at the time of public hearing to give environment clearance, and yet Ministry of Environment and Forest cleared the project. Now, the people have been forced to approach the courts for justice. The Pune bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has dismissed their petition against Bambhor-Talli mining site while another against Kalsar mining site is pending before the Delhi bench of NGT. But the fact is that Methla Bandhara has been under consideration of state government for the last 30 years and it is not moving ostensibly due to corporate lobbying,” Kalsariya told The Indian Express.
“The mining will break the ridge of limestone along the coast which acts as a barrier against salinity ingress in groundwater,” Kalsariya added.
UltraTech Cement Limited is the flagship company of Aditya Birla Group. The group had acquired 1,714 hectare land in Talaja and Mahuva talukas of Bhavnagar district between 1999 and 2001 for mining limestone and supplying it to its cement plant in Rajula taluka of neighbouring Amreli district. Out them, around 1,640 hectare was private agricultural land while the remaining was government wasteland. It has been trying to start mining limestone from its 193 hectare Bambhor-Talli lease area in Talaja taluka but has been hobbled by resistance from farmers.
Local officers of UltraTech refused to comment on the issue while an e-mail sent by The Indian Express to the company did not elicit an immediate response.
Police said the company had suspended mining operations for the day. “The company suspended its mining operations before farmers gathered near the site and remained suspended throughout the day. Police protection is there on the mining site, and there was no clash between farmers and police or farmers and miners. The protest was peaceful. Since nobody trespassed the lease area, no complaint has been filed in connection with today’s protest,” Hardipsinh Padhiyar, in-charge police sub-inspector of Datha police station told The Indian Express.