On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at the Statue of Unity to address the annual DGP conference, farmers in nearby villages continued their protest against the land acquisition for the second day Thursday.
Markets in Kevadiya Colony and Garudeshwar remained closed in protest. Black flags, made out of cloth and polythene bags, were also seen hoisted on the roofs of many houses. The protesting tribals said that they would continue their protest till the last day of the conference on Saturday.
The farmers said that their land was first acquired for the Sardar Sarovar dam and now they fear that the remaining land will be acquired for infrastructural projects near the Statue of Unity.
Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival, police officials were instructed to take down the black flags from the houses visible from the main road. However, many houses inside the village continued to hoist the flags.
“Our only source of income, our lands, were taken while we kept waiting for compensation. They promised us jobs when the statue was under construction. Now, my children are called to the site for work but that is only once a week. We will not accept this. They should first tend to our grievances and then host such extravagant events. We are protesting because we want them to know that we are unhappy,” said Jassiben Tadvi, 52, who hoisted a black flag on her roof on Thursday to protest the arrival of dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, in Kevadiya Colony.
A week before the unveiling of the Statue of Unity in October, in view of the protests, the state government had announced a compensation for the affected villages. The compensation included either Rs 7.5 lakh per hectare of land lost or land at some other location for the lost land.
The villagers, however, refused the package and demanded that their acquired lands be returned. They also reiterated that they will not give up any further land for tourism projects or expansion of infrastructure around the statue, including the state bhavans.
“We don’t want land elsewhere. We want it here where we belong. They will build bhavans and other projects on our land. Why not give it back to us rather than giving us land more than 40-50 kms from here. What use will that land be when our families stay here. We will not give away even an inch of our land any more and we don’t want any monetary packages,” said Sanjay Tadvi, another protesting farmer.
Meanwhile, speaking with The Indian Express, officials of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) said that all further projects, including the state bhavans, will be built on land already acquired by the SSNNL in 1960s and 1970s, when the foundation stone of the dam was laid.
“The SSNNL had acquired land from these villages in 1960s and 1970s for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project and a compensation was also announced back then. But the protests began as many of them wanted equal area of land in compensation for the land being acquired. Recently, a resolution offering ‘land for land’ compensation was issued, which gave an option for monetary compensation. We have also started the process of showing government lands which can be allotted to these people in various places like Chhota Udepur, Dediapada, Narmada, etc. But if still they protest we do not know what to say,” an official from SSNNL said.
Heavy police force was deployed in the area to prevent any untoward incidents. Additional force was deployed near Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s helicopter.