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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Explained: Why is trouble brewing around Statue of Unity in Gujarat?

Villagers have been clashing with the authorities in the area for over two months. What is the reason behind the unrest?

Written by Aditi Raja , Edited by Explained Desk | Vadodara | Updated: July 5, 2020 1:53:21 pm
Statue of Unity protests, Statue of Unity Gujarat, Kevadia protests, Kevadia land acquisition, Indian Express A board put up by SSNNL after fencing a land parcel in Kevadia village, on June 12, 2020. (Express Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

The Statue of Unity (SoU) site in Kevadia village is in the spotlight again, after the Gujarat government tightened vigil around it to prevent villagers from protesting by farming on land acquired by it for building various infrastructure to boost tourism.

On June 17, the Narmada district administration formed five teams to keep vigil on the acquired farmlands in six villages around the SoU recently fenced by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL). Since then, four cases of trespassing have been registered against villagers in Gora, Navagam and Limdi.

The villages that protested in May and June when SSNNL began fencing the land after the Gujarat High Court dismissed their petitions, include Vaghadiya, Kevadia and Kothi.

The background

The Gujarat government had originally acquired the land in 1961, for the construction of the Narmada dam canal and subsequently transferred possession to SSNNL, a wholly-owned Gujarat government public limited company that was incorporated in March 1989 to execute and manage the Sardar Sarovar Dam project.

SSNNL was part of the trust that built the 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on behalf of the government of Gujarat and continues to manage the structure. The Gujarat government, last year cleared a bill to set up a Statue of Unity Area development authority to help expedite projects in the area that is predominantly tribal.

Although the SSNNL has almost completed the fencing of the land, about 250 original landholders and their heirs are yet to accept the compensation offered by the SSNNL.

General Manager (Technical & Co-ordination) of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) M B Joshi, said, “A significant time has passed and the younger generation may not even know the facts of the compensation awarded to their forefathers. Moreover, we cannot consider the third or fourth generations of the landholders as beneficiaries. The younger generation feels they are not getting anything. The value of the cash compensation has now gone down and the market value of the lands is high. We are willing to discuss the compensation and take their suggestions.”

Statue of Unity protests, Statue of Unity Gujarat, Kevadia protests, Kevadia land acquisition, Indian Express Villagers claim they have not been taken into confidence in the plan to develop Kevadia as a tourist hub. (Express Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

What villagers argue

The villagers of Limdi, Kevadia, Vagadiya, Navagam, Kothi and Gora say that the government had acquired the land 59 years back, for the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam, but is now intending to put the land to use for other commercial purposes and not for the dam, which is why the SSNNL claim on the should be invalidated.

They have been backed by the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) founded by Chhotu Vasava who has also called it the ‘Statue of Displacement’ and the Congress which also staged a demonstration against the police detaining protesting tribals.

The six villages filed a PIL in Gujarat High Court protesting the acquisition and calling the compensation offered “meagre”. The HC dismissed their petition in May, after which the SSNNL began fencing the land. After several incidents of trespassing, the police pitched a tent on one of the hillocks for a commanding vigil of the area.

On June 25, a group of women from Kevadia village led by a villager Leela Tadvi, took over the tent and declared that they would not move till the police removed it.

Deputy Superintendent of Police, Kevadia, Vani Doodhat clarified that the tent was only for a panoramic view of the area as “there is sensitive installation with Narmada dam and Statue of Unity” and that it was not for “vigil on their land”.

Deputy Collector and Administrator of Kevadia, Nikunj Parikh says he is duty-bound to protect the land acquired by SSNNL as the administrator of Kevadia was the “custodian of the SSNNL land”. He asserts, “This will be a continuous exercise because no one can farm in the government land. We will take legal action against trespassers.”

Predominantly a population of Tadvi tribals, two of the six villages, Kevadia and Vagadiya, are bitter about being called “illegal occupants” on their own farmlands. The land acquired from both these villages faces the main road and is in close proximity to the SoU where hotels and resorts are coming up.

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What SSNNL says

In its reply to the High Court, SSNNL said that the government acquired physical possession of land in five villages measuring 1814.65 acres and paid compensation packages. But since the lands were not utilised, the villagers returned to their lands and subsequently the original landholders died.

According to SSNNL, as per the Narmada Waters Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) Award of 1979, the six villages had 238 landholders, of which about 105 original landholders are yet to agree upon the compensation package. Similarly, 241 men, sons of the original landholders, were counted as beneficiaries and of these, about 120 are yet to accept the compensation.

Statue of Unity protests, Statue of Unity Gujarat, Kevadia protests, Kevadia land acquisition, Indian Express Although the SSNNL has almost completed the fencing of the land, about 250 original landholders and their heirs are yet to accept the compensation offered by the SSNNL. (Express Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

The compensation package

As per the guidelines of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), male heirs of a landholder, displaced due to the project, who are 18 years of age as of November 1 1989, are to be given land measuring two hectares or the original size of their land — whichever is bigger — as well as a 250 sq feet plot for animal husbandry.

The villagers have the option to choose monetary compensation of Rs 7.5 lakh per hectare (2.4 acres) of land acquired. The villagers, however, claim that the current market value of the land is about Rs 35 lakhs per acre.

SSNNL has proposed resettlement of 1000 families to an ‘Adarsh Vasahat’ project planned by expert architects, to be constructed over 16 hectares of land belonging to SSNNL in Gora village.

In addition, SSNNL has offered to allot shops in a shopping complex to be built in the SoU parking area for those whose shops were razed during the process of acquisition. SSNNL officials say this would include even those affected families, who were not part of the original list of beneficiaries.

Rights of the tribals

Kevadia colony, in Nandod taluka of Narmada district, is a Schedule V area where the provisions of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas), Act, 1996 (PESA) are in force.

Both Schedule V and PESA provide for the rights to territorial integrity where the tribal panchayats have to decide the course of development and also land acquisition. The laws prevent any transfer of tribal lands to non-tribal entities.

However, villagers have been claiming that they have not been taken into confidence in the plan to develop Kevadia, as a tourist hub.

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