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Friday, July 10, 2020

Kevadia: From sleepy village to ground zero of protest against land acquisition

As many as 250 original landholders and their heirs are yet to accept the compensation offered by the SSNNL.

Written by Aditi Raja | Kevadia (gujarat) | Published: June 20, 2020 9:19:23 am
Kevadia, Statue of Unity, Statue of Unity Gujarat, Statue of Unity Kevadia, India news, Indian Express The road leading to Kevadia village. (Express Photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Kevadia, home to Gujarat’s largest dam named after Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, on the Narmada river, was a sleepy village till the construction of the 182-metre Statue of Unity (SoU) began in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the statue in October 2018, and more than 29 lakh tourists visited the site within a year.

However, now Kevadia is among the six villages protesting against the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) a Gujarat government-owned public limited company incorporated in March 1989 to execute and manage the Sardar Sarovar project. The SSNNL that executed the Rs 3,000-crore SoU project now needs the land for ancillary tourism infrastructure projects.

On June 2, Natwar Tadvi, a 65-year-old farmer of Kevadia was stopped from immolating himself to save his 16-acre land acquired in 1961, and fenced by the SSNNL in May this year after the Gujarat High Court dismissed a PIL filed by affected families of six villages protesting the acquisition and “meagre” compensation.

The villagers say that the land was originally acquired for the Narmada dam but was left unutilised as the location of the dam changed. The original intent of acquisition doesn’t exist anymore and so the landholders should be allowed to continue living there and SSNNL’s claim on the land be invalidated.

On June 15, Dinesh Tadvi of Gora village and his tractor driver Chetan Tadvi were booked for trespassing when they tried ploughing the land now occupied by SSNNL. Now there are five teams for surveillance of the villages — Kevadia, Vaghadia, Limdi, Gora, Navagam and Kothi — where warning of prosecution have also come up.

General Manager (Technical & Co-ordination) of SSNNL, MB Joshi, said that 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. “There were 241 major sons of the original landholders counted as beneficiaries. Of these, about 120 second generations of original landholders are yet to accept the compensation,” he says.

Natwar, who worked as a mason for SSNNL’s construction projects, says, “They (government) took away nearly five acres of my cultivable land for a railway project almost two years ago. Till date, they have not given me a single penny or land as compensation as I don’t have the ancillary property documents. Our family land of 16 acres was fenced for acquisition in 1961. We are a family of 60, surviving on the produce from the land. How will I feed the family without land?”

Natwar who lost all his land says the current market value is about Rs 35 lakh per hectare, against which SSNNL is offering Rs 7.5 lakh per hectare (2.4 acres), which is not enough to buy the equivalent of what he lost.

Joshi, said, “A significant time has passed and the younger generation may not even know facts of the compensation awarded to their forefathers. Moreover, we cannot consider the third or fourth generations of the landholders as beneficiaries… They are being misguided by people with political interests.”

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

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, were to be given land measuring two hectares or the original size of their land — whichever is bigger — as well as a 250 square feet plot for animal husbandry. The villagers have the option to choose monetary cash compensation of Rs 7.5 lakh per hectare of land acquired.

Villagers like Bhangi Tadvi whose house stands between two plots of fenced land fears eviction as his house might be an “eyesore”.

Political opponents of the BJP-run state government –the Congress and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) — have backed the protesting villagers. BTP supremo and tribal MLA from Jhagadia, Chhotu Vasava, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that the land acquisition be stopped.

Vasava, who calls it the “Statue of Displacement”, told The Indian Express, “The land was acquired in 1961-62 from tribals for the construction of the Narmada Dam but the location of the dam was changed and the government wants to sell the land to millionaire businessmen for building a hotel industry… Across the country, they are using their power to leave tribals landless and sell land to their industrialist friends. There should be a judicial inquiry into the police violence and torture on the tribal families.”

As many as 250 original landholders and their heirs are yet to accept the compensation offered by the SSNNL.

Joshi says, “We are willing to hear their suggestions and also include those on the list of beneficiaries where we are not able to draw up a proof of the compensation paid earlier from our records.”

SSNNL has proposed resettlement of 1,000 families to an ‘Adarsh Vasahat’ project, to be constructed on 16 hectares of land belonging to SSNNL in Gora village. It has also offered to allot shops in a shopping complex to be built in the SoU parking area for those whose shops were razed during acquisition. SSNNL officials say this would include even those affected families who were not part of the original list of beneficiaries.

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