Updated: October 29, 2018 7:37:44 am
After many banners across Narmada district for the government-sponsored Ekta Yatra to celebrate the completion of Statue of Unity were torn and defaced allegedly by agitating tribals, the local administration have replaced them with posters carrying the picture of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda. Police personnel have also been deployed close to the banners to prevent any attempt to damage them.
Notably, unlike the old ones, the new posters carry a bigger image of the tribal leader followed by smaller images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Besides the image of the tribal leader, the banners have captions reading ‘Adivasi Freedom Fighter’, ‘We heartily welcome the Ekta Yatra’ along with images of places of tourism in Gujarat.
When asked if there was a deliberate decision to replace the torn banners with those having the image of Birsa Munda, Narmada Collector R S Ninama said, “New posters that have been put up were made and sent by the agency in Gandhinagar (Gujarat Tourism). We did not decide it.”
On Thursday, The Indian Express had found that huge posters with photographs of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and the Statue of Unity were blackened or torn at several places along the Ekta Yatra route. However, the government’s measure seems to have failed to pacify the tribals as new posters were also found damaged with Birsa Munda’s image remaining intact. The government has not made any arrest or detention in this regard.
Meanwhile, ahead of the unveiling of the 182-metre-tall statue of Sardar Patel, 22 village sarpanchs from areas around the statue in Narmada district have written an open letter to Prime Minister Modi urging him to skip the unveiling ceremony on October 31, saying that he won’t be welcomed by the residents of Kevadiya Colony on ‘their land.’
“When we are still struggling to avail basic infrastructural facilities for schools, hospitals and drinking water, you decide to spend crores of rupees for the construction of a statue and now again for the inaugural event. With a heavy heart, all of us villagers are telling you that we won’t welcome you on our land in our district,” the letter to PM Modi read.
In the letter, the village chiefs have said that for the tribal population “land-farm, water and forest are the natural elements worth worshipping” which get exploited and destroyed during the course of such “ambitious developmental projects”. “It pains us to look at what you have done with our land and river with first the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and now with the Statue of Unity,” the letter read.
“With first the Dam, a number of people were rendered homeless and jobless. And now with this ambitious project of yours we can’t even fathom the number of people who have and who will lose their livelihoods and homes.”
They even raised concerns over insufficient rainfall and unavailability of water for irrigation and drinking purpose to people in Narmada district. “Being so close to the river and the Sardar Sarovar Canal, we should be the first to avail benefits of drinking water and water for irrigation, but we are yet to avail it. Our needs like such are not prioritised and when we raise our voices you send police to detain us,” it added.
The sarpanch of Waghadia village in Kevadiya Colony, Govind Tadvi, said, “Many villagers were displaced when the Narmada Dam was constructed and now for the statue. From our village 100 per cent land have been acquired for the project. The administration offered us compensation of Rs 7.5 lakh, but we refused to accept it. No amount of money can compensate the hard work put into building a house and returns that a farmland can produce in a lifetime. Outsiders have been called to set up stalls, while our source of livelihoods are destroyed in the name of development.”
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